When I find something that will change your life – FOREVER – I must share. I’m not such a fan of pre-seasoned packages, like those dried bean soup mixes loaded with some heavy doses of sodium, but I recently stumbled across this beauty at Trader Joe’s. It’s simply called Harvest Grains Blend and can quickly become the rock star of a wonderful fall Harvest Grains Salad. I wanted to take issue with the fact that orzo is a pasta and not technically a grain, but I guess pasta started as a grain, right? There’s really no reason to get cranky, because this is a great Mama’s helper. It has Israeli couscous (the jumbo pearl size), three colors of orzo (plain, red pepper and spinach), split baby garbanzo beans (so cute), and red quinoa. The beauty of the pre-package is that it takes the guesswork out of cooking. You can easily make your own blend, or even just use one single grain/pasta. But if you are mixing, you need to pay attention to cooking times so you don’t, for example, throw couscous and wild rice into the same pot at the same time. Cooking time here is a mere ten minutes.
Israeli couscous is larger than standard coucous and is slightly chewy and comes in a variety of flavors. Shown here is a tri-color blend, including unflavored, spinach and tomato. The pasta in the center is orzo.
I hope you are taking advantage of the last of the season’s juicy tomatoes. I have detailed before how you can simply split them, put them cut side up on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt, and slow roast them to concentrate the flavors and dehydrate the liquid. From there, once cooled, they are easy to Ziploc and freeze. I use them all winter in frittatas, cornbreads, pastas, soups and stews, on pizzas, focaccia, and in salads. They are a sweet treat come February, and now is the time to make it happen!
Tomatoes are a natural BFF to blue cheeses. While blue can be made with cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk, all varieties share a common production technique which involves ripening them using cultures of the mold Penicillium. The green or blue veins are created during the aging process by spiking with stainless steel rods to aerate the cheese and encourage the mold’s growth. It’s not hard to see where the spikes went in on this hunk of Glacier Wildfire Blue. To learn more, check in with our friends at The Cheese Lady for great info on many cheeses, blue and beyond.
For this salad I chose Delft. It’s a buttery cow’s milk cheese with a clean finish – a bit sweet and not too salty. This cheese comes from the Netherlands and is so named for its resemblance to Delftware pottery. The blue veins and milky whiteness resemble the lovely pottery, as if broken and put back together.
A new twist on pasta or grain salad, this dish uses a Trader Joe’s pre-packaged combo and includes Israeli couscous, tri-color orzo, split baby garbanzos and red quinoa. While you can, oven dry some end-of-summer tomatoes and stash them in your freezer. They will add a nice flavor boost to salads like this, as well as pastas, soups, stews and anything else you might make this winter when the tomatoes in the store then will taste like cardboard.
Bring your own pizza toppings. Pizza Party extraordinaire.
In case you haven’t guessed, these newfangled pot lucks (emphasis on the LUCKY, not the pot) are a big hit. Perhaps the reason typical pot lucks scare me just a wee bit is their origin. Historically, pot lucks date back to the European middle ages when nothing, but nothing, was thrown away. (Maybe we could take a tiny page from that lifestyle – I’m looking at you 40% food waste). Rather, leftovers were thrown into a pot and kept warm kind of indefinitely, available to any unplanned arrivals on short notice. This practice was especially prevalent in taverns and inns in medieval times, so no matter when you arrived, you could be treated to the “luck of the pot.” It’s entirely possible, to me at least, that modern day pot lucks could be of equally suspect food safety, never mind random items. But the Pot Lucky aims to change all that!
While on the subject of random items, who can forget the famous shrimp dip? My hosts, the charming Bob and Sally Oyler, were no doubt surprised when not only did a guest plop down a somewhat lame-ass (editorial comment mine, certainly not that of the gracious hosts) hors d’oeuvre smack dab in the middle of their fabulous holiday buffet, but said hors d’ was accompanied by kitschy recipe cards to take away. By the end of the party, pretty much every card remained – apparently not a dish that you really need (nor want, for that matter) a recipe for. And now, for more than 35 years, they have appeared in my mail, tucked inside Christmas cards from Sally, their daughter Barb, and most recently hand-delivered by a grandson, something of a recipe card mule, given he had no idea what was in the envelope he bore. I have gotten the last card from Sally, but trust, hope they will keep coming. Anybody want that recipe? I might have a few to share.
Like everything, pot lucks have a silver lining. The beauty of the pot luck is that it spreads both the effort and the expense and makes entertaining a you-don’t-have-to-be-Martha-Stewart snap. After the sausage making party and the soup swap, both definite fan faves, I landed on BYOPT – bring your own pizza toppings. A Pizza Party. “Best Party Ever”, according to one guest. I think part of the fun was that everyone got a quick turn at playing chef – drawing from the 40 some toppings, sauces, and cheeses that found their way to the kitchen island. And by playing chef, I mean this in the truest sense of the word – all the items were prepped (mise en place) and assembly is both the easy and the creative part. I committed to providing the dough (Trader’s Joe has fresh flour, whole wheat and herbed dough, as well as a frozen organic dough). Then I threw out some ideas for both pizza combos and individual toppings, organized by sauce/base, oils, toppings (veg and meat), and cheeses. You can plan it two ways – have people chose from a list of toppings and mix and match at the party, or have them bring enough for their own concoction and they are responsible for everything but the dough on that pie. We got a bit of both. Just a little coordination will keep you from having a lot of dupes.
I of course had to make a run to the Cheese Lady, not just for the fabulous ooey-gooey meltable cheeses, but also for her fine collection of oils and vinegars. I settled on a lemon oil (fabulous to drizzle with my lemon pistachio pesto) and a white truffle oil. Super aromatic oils like truffle need to be drizzled after the bake. They are too good to go on before the oven. Good news guys – a phone call to the Cheese Lady and these puppies can be on their way to you. They don’t ship cheeses, but do take phone orders on the wonderful assortment of oils and vinegars. There is a divine maple balsamic that makes a killer vinaigrette with the lemon oil, and the raspberry balsamic is wonderful drizzled into a seltzer. Super refreshing!
I had to get a couple cheeses that weren’t on my radar – one was meadowkaas which I did know about but didn’t expect to see til June. This is a special (aren’t they all?) style cheese that is made from the first milk from the cows that wander into North Holland’s (the Netherlands, not Michigan!!!) first grasses each spring. An importer found some 65 wheels from 2015 and upon Cheese Lady deeming it delish, they found their way to her. Yahoo! However, the other cheese I bought I had never heard – Kurpianka smoked cheese from Poland. Its touch of garlic and springy texture make it a perfect melting pizza cheese. Yum. Oh and it looks like a cheese grenade. I love that!
The most important detail you can tell your guests is to make sure the ingredients are “pizza-ready.” That means olives are pitted, zucchini and shiitake-types are quickly sautéed, and bacon is at least par-cooked. Otherwise you will get both a free for all with your limited space and a real mess. I considered a change of address halfway through the party. But a little organization goes a long way. I had a building station with sauces and oils, a topping station, a cutting station, a bar area, and a plates & salad serving area. My kitchen isn’t nearly as big as it sounds. But it worked – just barely. We had about 18 people and made about 13 pies. I find that so hard to believe because I swear I made 15 myself and ate at least 20. #CarbFreeMay
It helps to have some basic equipment – a Pizza Peel to transfer the prepped pizzas, a Pizza Stone or two (or three) always hot in the oven, pizza pans, and plenty of cutting boards and pizza wheels. Everyone brought what they had. I think there may have been six pies in the oven and two on the grill at one point. For the grilled pizza, we used the frozen dough. If you make your own or use fresh dough, it is best to roll it as thinly as you can and then freeze it to make a smooth transfer to the grill. Oil the grill and cook the dough on both sides to color and get grill marks. Then transfer to the building area where you can add toppings. Slide back on the grill and close the lid to melt the toppings. This will only take a few minutes. The oven (400-425oF) pizzas work well if you dust the peel with corn meal or make sure the dough is well floured and not sticky. Build the pie and slide onto the hot stones. All in all, it’s pretty neck-down in the execution, once you do a couple test pies to get down the technique.
We had some pretty fantastic Pizza Party toppings – here is a select list (email if you want my master list):
Sauces: red sauce, lemon ricotta, lemon pistachio pesto, fruit chutney, kale pesto, green olive tapenade, horseradish dill drizzle
Oils: EVOO, lemon oil, white truffle oil, Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil (divine on the butternut squash ribbon pie), chipotle oil, fig balsamic
Arugula, charred scallions, roasted garlic, sautéed shiitakes, grilled zucchini and yellow squash, you’ll thank me in the winter oven dried tomatoes, sautéed broccoli rabe, fresh basil, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, spinach, roasted beets, dried figs, butternut squash ribbons (the Paderno Spiral Vegetable Slicer worked perfectly), Brussels sprouts, smoked salmon, capers, roasted plums, radishes – wait…..seriously??? A partial list????
Pepperoni, prosciutto, shredded chicken, ham, bacon, sausage
Some of you are still taking the food waste quiz (how YOU doin?) and some are asking for more recipes and tips on how to keep from wasting food (duly noted). But even bigger and better, late Monday GrubStreet reported that Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavec put $100,000 into Hungry Harvest, a delivery start up rescuing deformed produce. #loveuglyfood I feel better already!
Since this Shark Tank exposure, 1,000 people have signed up for this delivery service – in just 5 days. Each delivery, on average, reduces 10 pounds of produce from going to waste, and they also donate 1.5 pounds of produce to the needy, per week.Multiply that by 1,000 – and they’ll recover 10,000 pounds and donate 1,500 pounds of produce per week. Not to be too computational and all, but that’s 43,000 pounds recovered and 6,450 pounds donated per month. And 520,000 pounds recovered and 78,000 pounds donated per year.
Hungry Harvest currently delivers to the Maryland/DC/Northern Virginia area, but Philly and NYC are coming soon.
Stay tuned for more tips from me on how you can cut waste by re-purposing produce into delicious recipes………..coming soon. And give an ugly eggplant a hug, will ya?
Well hello there!! You’re back. Fantastic to see you again. Hope you enjoyed all seasonal festivities! This time of year most everyone is thinking about healthy eating for the New Year and making lots of resolutions. Being a bit of a rebel – always – I want to take a sec to talk about what you are NOT eating. The folks at Sustainable America have made this frightening infographic about food waste. 40? I knew there was a lot but this is pretty damn shocking. 40% of all food in America gets discarded. Adding insult to injury, not only does it not go to hungry mouths – 49 million Americans each night are going to bed hungry – this discarded food ends up rotting in landfills and further adds to greenhouse gasses. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, has 26 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. Global warming, HELLOOOOO!!!!
It’s a complicated problem and heavily impacts other parts of our survival. 32% of freshwater used in the US goes to produce food that is never eaten. Americans throw away more than 1.5 pounds of food per person daily. And it’s not just limited to the USA. Wasted worldwide annually?? 1.3 BILLION pounds of food! Damn, Skippy!!
It sounds like a really big problem – IT IS – so how can one person or one family make a difference. You’re busy, right? Wrong!!! Well, you probably are busy, but not TOO busy.
Look at this simple list that will truly make a difference:
Inventory your fridge before shopping
Plan better/throw away less
Store food optimally (don’t put potatoes and onions together)
Show some love to ugly produce #loveuglyfood
Turn food ripening too quickly into freezer staples: breads, soups, purees (remember that pesto?), oven-dried fruits and vegs, frozen smoothie mise, ice cube trays filled with juiced fruits and vegs
Eat your leftovers!!
Support restaurants that are involved in food recovery
Take the quiz to see where you rank as a food waster! And for more tips on storage and cutting waste, check out the IValueFood website.
What’s your NEW new year’s resolution? How will you help? It’s not just good for the planet; your wallet will thank you, too! Let me know what change you plan to make. I’m starting off by putting that flabby zucchini to good use. Yumsters!
If you think I am in a bit of a panic over the eminent disappearance of vine-ripened ANYthing, you are correct, sir! But after years of veg-therapy, I have a few coping techniques to preserve the last taste of summer and keep me from jonesing til the sun sits high in the sky again. Of course, canning is always an option; but that is a real commitment, and I personally like the pop of flavor that oven-dried tomatoes deliver. I’m not a big fan of freezing either. (They say the freezer is the last stop before the trash, so it’s not an ideal way in which to honor a loved one.) Some produce, like tomatoes, have too much water in them for quality freezing results. Once frozen, the water in tomatoes expands and destroys the structure. Unless you are aiming for a puree or sauce, OR adding to a soup or stew, that kind of behavior is considered, in many circles, a criminal offense.
Oven-dried tomatoes, while ultimately stored in the freezer, have already dehydrated sufficient water to make them super freezer-worthy. Because they don’t freeze as a solid block, it’s easy to grab a few and toss into a salad, a pasta, a frittata, or pop into a Panini or quesadilla. I also like the texture – not as leathery as commercially-produced sundried tomatoes, and they are not immersed in low-quality oil. These tomatoes will be super-charged with flavor and soft with a bit of chewiness – luscious!
Thanks to the surge in varieties of heirloom tomatoes, there are many options for choosing colors and shapes and sizes and flavors. I usually try to buy an assortment of colors and shapes, but keep the sizes about the same. If I am working with some larger tomatoes, I will keep them in a separate section since their cooking time will be longer. Choose from ripe yet firm cherry, pear, and grape – black pearl, green envy, Italian ice, and zebra. There is a virtual rainbow of possibilities. And while it takes a lot to fill even a quart Ziploc, a little bit from that Zip will go a very long way.
You’ll Thank Me in the Winter Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Plan to do this when you are home for the afternoon, cleaning out the closet or putting your herbs to bed for the winter (more on that next time). While this is a very fast prep and low ongoing involvement process, it is impossible to guess how long the whole shebang will take. If you have a convection oven, you can speed up the process a bit. And if you have a dehydrator, your watchful eye is less necessary. I usually figure 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours if I have an oven-full.
Preheat the oven to 225°F.
I like to line my sheet pans with foil to prevent pan-pitting as the tomato acid is released. (And let’s be real, it makes clean-up a snap). Halve the tomatoes and arrange in rows by variety/size on the pan, cut side up.
Sprinkle the tomatoes with a coarse sea or kosher salt.
My oven is wide enough for a full sheet pan and I can put in three at a time. However the air flow is significantly reduced, and so I have to keep an eye and rotate the pans, top to bottom and front to back. The better the airflow, the faster they will dehydrate.
Nothing will happen for an hour or hour and a half. But keep an eye on them after that – every 20 minutes or so. If you have used a wide variety of tomatoes, they will likely finish at slightly different rates.
Once they dry to your desired doneness, remove and cool completely, before bagging in a Ziploc. Press out excess air and keep in the very front of your freezer for easy access.
Don’t forget about that salt when you go to use them later – you may not need additional salt in your recipe.
Bottom Line It, will ya?
There are no proportions or timing here. But, if you insist: 6 quarts of cherry tomatoes, will fill 3 full sheet pans when halved and need about 3 hours in a 225°F oven, resulting in about 1 quart of You’ll Thank Me in the Winter Oven-Dried Tomatoes for your freezer.
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