Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tips to Cut Down Food Waste in Your Kitchen

I recently worked on an interesting story about food waste that occurs all around us --in restaurant kitchens, school kitchens and our own kitchens. Given the growing hunger in our communities (just visit soup kitchens, unemployment offices and food pantries for a first-hand account), the fact that Americans generate more than 34 million tons of food waste each year is sad. More than sad, it's a problem that needs to be fixed, controlled at least.

So I asked some of my sources to share tips that we could use to be more conscious consumers and be part of the solution. Here's what they shared:

Joann Knox, director of Child Nutrition with Abilene ISD, credits the district’s cafeteria managers and staff for a tight handle on the food waste issue. “Many of the things we do,” she said, “can be used at home.”

1. Keep up with your inventory. “We know what we have in our pantries, refrigerators and freezers,” Knox said. “We keep a running log or leftovers sheet. Whenever we put something in, we date and label it.”

2. Use food in a timely manner. The district also applies the “first in, first out” rule. “We place older items at the front so they are used up first,” Knox said.

3. Plan ahead. The district orders food about two weeks in advance and that involves planning, using menus and shopping lists.

4. Make sure your refrigerator and freezer are operating at the correct temperature. Freezers should be zero degrees or below, and refrigerators in the 38-35 degrees range, she recommended. “The wrong temperatures can cause food to mold and spoil,” she said.

5. Use seasonal menu items. “We miss out on a lot of food at their peak –like zucchinis and peaches—because of our school calendar,” she said. “So we try to serve a lot of fresh fruit when school opens.”

Martha Alice Spraberry works in the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Taylor County and they provide everything from recipes to food safety and management classes. Her tips are as follows:

1. Put up leftover in the refrigerator in a timely manner. Within 2 hours of taking a dish off the stove or out of the refrigerator, or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or above.

2. Use up leftovers as soon as you can. If you don’t want to eat the same thing, add a few ingredients and turn them into something new. Spraberry loves to use leftovers in salads, soups, casseroles and quick stir-fries.

3. If you’re packing leftovers for lunch the next day, remember hot foods need to be kept hot (use a thermos) and cold foods need to stay cold (use ice packs). “If you’re packing bottled water for lunch, you might freeze it first and use it like an ice pack to keep your food cold,” she said.

Several Abilene moms shared their food strategies on the AbileneMoms Facebook Page.

1. Ashley G. stores all her leftover veggies in a freezer bag in the winter. “When I have enough, I use those to make vegetable soup,” she posted. “Even just a spoon full doesn't go to waste.”

2. Becky Z. plans ahead and uses leftovers to create other meals. “I make a full chicken almost every 10 days, eat that as a meal then portion out the rest of the chicken into two separate casseroles or pot pies,” she wrote. “I usually can make about 3 to 5 meals out of a 4lbs chicken.”

3. Marlene H. makes lasagna or casseroles and then freezes the leftovers to enjoy a couple of weeks later.

If you have a tip that hasn't been mentioned but helps you in your food strategy, please share in the comments!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Winner Announcement!

WooHoo! The winner of The Homesick Texan cookbook is Laurie (The Irishrenlady). I'll be e-mailing you!

And thank you everyone who visited the post and shared their stories of food and memories. Each one was special. Keep cooking, eating & making new memories!

Also, here's my article on Texas Foods that Lisa Fain is featured in.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Q & A with Lisa Fain and giveaway of The Homesick Texan Cookbook

Homesickness is a such a powerful yearning of the soul that it can connect two strangers across a great distance. Even if the strangers had never met. Even if one lived in Texas and the other in New York City. Even if they were each pining for homes left behind in different parts of the world.

I found the Homesick Texan blog when Lisa wrote these words: "When I first moved to New York City and discovered that the Tex-Mex was seriously lacking in this town, I embraced Indian food. Now, if you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine that may seem bizarre. But Indian cuisine is rich with ingredients familiar to Texans, such as cumin, chiles and cilantro." You can find the rest of the post here.

Her words mirrored my experience. When I first moved to the U.S. and Texas, when I found myself missing Bangladesh and my mother's curries, sitting around the family table for meals full of flavors and smells I'd grown up with...I sought out Tex-Mex food.

Over time, I grew to appreciate Tex-Mex food for itself (you couldn't find avocados or guacamole anywhere in Bangladesh, but I absolutely love both!), enjoyed other Texas fare and learned to make curries and other desi foods myself. But I still continue to keep up with the Homesick Texan. And when she published her cookbook, I was overjoyed.

It's more than just a cookbook, it's the words and recipes of a sister traveller. To celebrate her debut release, one lucky person will win a copy of her cookbook. All you have to do is leave a comment about what food takes you home. A randomly drawn winner will be announced Wednesday, September 21.

Here's a Q & A with Lisa. Enjoy!

1) Who inspired you to cook?

Everyone in my family enjoys cooking, and some of my earliest memories are standing in the kitchen with my mom, my dad or my grandparents, watching them prepare dishes. Sometimes they’d even let me help if I wasn’t too busy licking the bowl.

2) What inspired you to write a cookbook?

Writing books has always been a dream of mine, and when enough people suggested that I write a cookbook, it seemed like a natural progression from the work I’d done on the blog.

It’s funny, I started the blog simply to share recipes and photos with friends and family, and never in my wildest dreams did I believe I’d end up writing a book. It’s been a joyful journey!

3) How have you changed since you started blogging?

The blog showed me that there are homesick Texans all over the world—so I felt less alone with my obsession. It’s also revealed to me the power of home cooking as a means of connecting with those that you love.

4) Who is this cookbook meant for?

This cookbook is meant for everyone. Seriously, Texan cuisine is warm and welcoming and I say everyone’s invited to the Texas table!

5)When you miss Texas, what is the one food or flavor that can always comfort you?

A big bowl of homemade Houston-style green sauce.

(Photo Credit goes to Jan Cobb)

To know more about Lisa, check out her Homesick Texan blog. Remember, leave a comment and a way to get in touch with you, and you might win a most drool-worthy book! :)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

No-labor grilled veggie recipes for Labor Weekend

So we're in the middle of a 3-day Labor Day weekend and many of us are gathering around a grill. It's sort of like a last big "Hurrah!" School has started, the temperatures have started to drop (Yay!)and we are saying good bye to summer.

When grilling is mentioned, many people immediately think of some sort of meat -- large cuts of steak, stings of sausages or skewers of kababs. Not me. I offer you veggies.

My favorites are sturdy vegetables that don't fall apart on the grill, like squash, onions, bell peppers, asparagus and okra. A mix adds a rainbow of color and flavors to your meal. Grilling adds a smoky depth to the veggies, and brings out a natural sweetness. All with only a minimum of fuss.

Step 1. Marinate the veggies.

Step 2. If using bamboo skewers, remember to presoak them. Also, using two skewers makes the veggies easier to handle, esp. in case of long veggies.

Step 3. Grill time! Remember cooking time will depend on various factors: the type of vegetable, the thickness of it, and personal preference regarding doneness.

Step 4. Serve!

Recipe for mixed veggies

2 medium zuchhini, cut into 2" pieces then halved lengthwise
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 2" pieces
8 to 10 pearl onions, sliced in half from top to bottom
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS lemon juice
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper to season
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled


1. Preheat grill to medium-high. Brush grate with oil.

2. Toss the cut veggies with the marinade ingredients.

3. Get a bowl ready for cooked veggies.

4. My indoor grill didn't have a lot of space, so I had to grill in batches. The Zucchini and onion will take longer to cook than the peppers. About 5 to 6 minutes.

5. Finish off the veggies by sprinkling the goat cheese on top and serve with pasta, couscous or pita bread.

Grilled Okra Recipe

15 medium-sized young okra
2 tablespoons of oil (vegetable, canola or olive)
Juice of half a large lemon
1 rounded teaspoon of Cajun seasoning or curry powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper (optional)

6 bamboo skewers, presoaked

1. Preheat grill.
2. In a medium bowl, toss the okra, oil, lemon juice and spices together until all the okra is well coated.
3. Thread about five okra pods onto two parallel skewers (sort of creating an okra billboard).
4. Grill each set of okra about 15 minutes (turning once half way through).
5. Serve with ranch sauce (optional)