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Friday, July 29, 2011

Another Way to Save Money: Eat Local & Seasonal!

Aside from being a CSA member and growing my own garden, I rarely check the stickers on produce in stores to see where my fruit and vegetables are grown (A quick tip: if the PLU sticker code begins with #9 it is organic, #4 is conventional, and any other number is most likely genetically modified - avoid these!) Since grocery stores have no season, I am guilty of eating out of season as well.

Eating local and seasonal can benefit:
1. the environment - shorter shipping distance = less resources used
2. your health - local and seasonal produce is often higher in nutritional value (nutrition begins to degrade as soon as fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested)
3. your wallet - produce is often cheaper in season because it is more abundant and when you buy directly from your local farmer at a farmers' market, you cut out the middle man! (aka the grocery store)
It's a win-win situation!

Check out this link for seasonal produce in NY State (you can look up other states on the website as well):
New York Harvest Calendar

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Your Vegetables: Using Stems, Stalks, Leaves, Flowers, and Seeds

I recently came across an article from The New York Times titled, "That's Not Trash, That's Dinner," and decided that its topic would be the perfect follow-up to my DIY post. The article discusses how you can stretch your dollar (and your CSA box or garden) by using all parts of a vegetable or plant. The article points out that we have become so familiar with the packaging and form of fruits and vegetables sold in the grocery store and served in restaurants, that we don't realize that the "scraps" are functional or edible. I began to realize this last summer when I interned at Sophia Garden, an organic CSA farm. I would bring home vines of leaves from our sweet potato crop, and saute them just like spinach with garlic and oil. Farmer Steve taught me that purslane, a common garden weed, is edible and highly nutritious (did you know that purslane was a favorite food of both Ghandi and Hippocrates?) The tiny white flowers that bloom on arugula is spicy-sweet and can be tossed into salads.

This summer has been my first attempt at an organic garden and my first time as a CSA member, so I have been getting the most out of my vegetables and plants by trying the following:

  • Using other greens, such as arugula and swiss chard, to make pesto
  • Trimming the curly garlic scapes that shoot from my garlic plants to make pesto
  • Battering and frying yellow squash blossoms (my parents still eat this, but I have to pass on it since the batter has egg and cheese)
  • Shredded broccoli stems to make broccoli slaw (or juicing the stems - there are tons of antioxidants in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli!)
  • Simmering herb stems to flavor a vegetable broth or soup (you can strain them out after)
  • Pickling green tomatoes that have not ripened at the end of the season
  • Sauteing beet greens, turnip greens, and broccoli leaves or throwing them raw into salads (let them marinate in lemon juice or vinegar to soften if eating raw)
  • Roasting pumpkin seeds with oil and sea salt
  • Juicing anything else or placing the scraps in my compost bin (any raw fruit or vegetable that is not too moist can be thrown into compost)
  • Letting some of my crops dry out and extracting seeds from their pods to save for next season
  • Hanging fresh herbs from the ceiling of a very dry room to make my own dried herbs and teas
Click on the link for The New York Times article above to find even more suggestions for maximizing your vegetable usage. Some of the parts that we traditionally discard from our fruits and vegetables can be the most nutritious parts of a plant (e.g. the rind of citrus fruits contains most of the antioxidants - so juice your citrus fruits whole and use the rind for zest!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DIY Vegan- Have Fun & Save $$!

Lately I've been into DIY (Do It Yourself) culinary projects:

  • Rolling my own sushi using recipes from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
  • Making my own seed milk with a nut milk bag. I recently tried making hemp milk this weekend. The verdict: super fast and easy to make (just blend...straining is optional) and very healthy (lot's of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids!).
  • Making soy yogurt in the Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker that I got Danny for his birthday. We found that to make yogurt with soy milk, we have to strain it in paper coffee filters for an hour or so after incubation to thicken it. The result: rich, creamy greek-style yogurt!
  • Aging raw cashew cheese using this recipe from Rawmazing. Perhaps I didn't let the sprouted wheat berries ferment long enough, because my cashew mixture didn't have an aged cheesy flavor. I added some onion powder, scallion, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast and voila! - herbed cashew ricotta.
I certainly save money going the homemade route. I also feel this sense of accomplishment in doing so. How many people can say they ferment homemade yogurt overnight? 

World Cuisine 48297-99 Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable SlicerLast weekend I made a complete raw meal to let everyone sample at my aunt's BBQ. I finally bought a spiralizer (see the photo at left), and I love it! It is really easy to use and takes seconds to clean. It quickly cuts vegetables into long spaghetti-like strands or into thin chip shapes, making raw vegetables easier to chew and digest. Since I got zucchini in my CSA box last week, I made zucchini spaghetti using my spiralizer. I made a raw marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, bell peppers, and herbs and "not meat balls" from walnuts and herbs. Both recipes were from Raw Food Made Easy For 1 or 2 People. Everyone who tried the dish loved it and thought that it tasted very similar to real pasta. (I even served the spaghetti to Danny's 5 year old brother a few days later and he seemed to enjoy it once he got over the idea of eating "cold pasta.") I was able to use the abundance of arugula in my garden to make arugula pesto. I tweaked the recipe a bit by using only 2 cloves of raw garlic and omitting the cooked garlic, and using 1/4 cup hemp seeds + 1/4 cup nutritional yeast in place of the parmesan cheese. My 93 year old grandpa almost polished off the entire bowl! I'm glad I was able to sneak some more veggies into his diet, because he certainly loves his meat and cheese.

For dessert, I made the melon salad with mint, basil, and lemon vinaigrette that I made for the potluck last weekend. I tried another dessert recipe from Raw Food Made Easy For 1 or 2 People, and like everything else I've tried from that book, it was delicious and easy! I made the Tropical Fruit Tart with a coconut, macadamia, walnut, and date crust and a simple filling of fresh mango blended with dried mango. I garnished it with fresh strawberries and kiwis. This pie was not as rich and filling as the Chocolate Tart I made a few weeks ago, but it was perfect for a light summer dessert. 

I've been trying to plan my meals for the week every Tuesday (that's the day I pick up my CSA veggie box). My CSA box is always a surprise, so I wait to see what I get and then pick up any additional items I need at the grocery store. My garden has been providing me with sugar snap peas, lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, herbs, and now yellow squash and carrots, so I really need to coordinate my meals for the week so that nothing goes to waste! (And luckily nothing ever does go to waste, because I juice any extra fruits and veggies and compost the scraps). Yesterday I made a salad recipe from my CSA's newsletter to use up the radicchio, golden beets, white onion, and scallions from last week's CSA box. I added arugula from my garden, dates, hazelnuts, and used raw cashew cheese in place of the feta. I spiralized the golden beets and added some balsamic vinegar to bring out the natural sweetness of the beets. This recipe is definitely a keeper! 

heart-shaped beet!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Food Filled Weekend

I kicked off the holiday weekend with a potluck with Danny's coworkers Friday night at Captree State Park on Long Island's south shore. Anticipating the usual fare of burgers and franks, we brought our own homemade "Southwestern Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers" from Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet. I found it odd that most of the recipe ingredients were listed by weight in ounces. I didn't have batteries for my mom's food scale, so I had to estimate the measurements. I must have used way too much corn meal, because the burgers came out a bit dry and gritty. I was able to salvage them by serving them on Ezekiel sprouted grain burger buns with tahini, lettuce, fresh lime juice, and a tequila lime salsa. The lime and salsa provided a bit more moisture and enhanced the southwestern flavors. I made so many that I had leftovers for a few days, and the burgers definitely improved with age. Since it was a potluck, we brought a fruit salad to share. I tossed watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple with a mint and basil vinaigrette from Food Network's Giada DeLaurentiis. I used honey instead of making the simple syrup and substituted a lemon liquor that my dad brought back from Italy in place of the amaretto. I think most people at the potluck were scared to try the salad because of the flecks of green (mint and basil) on the fruit. Those who did try it loved it (Danny and I ended up eating most of the bowl by ourselves)!

On Sunday, Danny and I made our second attempt at rolling sushi. We followed the "Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls" recipe from Veganomicon like last time. We made some slight changes, but we had great success again. This time we used raw, untoasted Navitas brand nori sheets. It definitely had a fishier taste and chewier texture than the toasted Eden Foods nori that we used last time. We also tried using a Japanese short grain brown rice to  make it a bit healthier. The brown rice tasted great, but was slightly less sticky than the white sushi rice. So although we didn't attempt to make any inside-out rolls, the sushi still held together nicely with the brown rice. We had some of our friends and coworkers taste the rolls and they loved them.

On Monday, I went to Danny's family BBQ for the fourth of July. His mom made lots of dishes that we could eat too. My favorite was her olive tapenade, which she makes simply by processing green Sicilian olives that have been packed in oil, garlic, herbs, and spices. It makes a great spread for bread, crackers, or vegetables. Later in the day I stopped by my friend's BBQ after work. She's vegan as well, so she had a great spread that included her famous berry cheesecake and chocolate cupcakes. Another friend made this summery "Sweet Corn & Black Bean Salad" from Whole Foods recipes.

I almost forgot! This weekend I made my first homemade raw vegan milk! Using a recipe for sesame milk from Jennifer Cornbleet's Raw Made Easy, I made a creamy dairy-free milk that is rich in calcium. The first step is to soak the raw nut or seed of your choice for a few hours (other popular choices for "milks" are almonds, hemp seeds, cashews, and brazil nuts).  Then place the nuts/seeds in a blender with water, dates (I used coconut sugar instead), and optional flavoring (vanilla extract, carob, cocoa, etc.). Once the mixture is smooth, place in a nut milk bag or in cheesecloth to strain out the liquid. Using only 1 cup of sesame seeds, I made about 3 cups of sesame milk. I use a small amount in my muesli each morning, so one jar of sesame milk will last me about a week. Overall, this is an easy and economical way to make your own raw and healthy milks. I bought a pound of raw organic sesame seeds in the bulk bin of a health food store for only $2.50. That means that each 3-cup jar of sesame milk only costs me about $1! That's a lot cheaper than the $3 per quart boxes of nondairy milks that come packaged with sugar and other additives. I've heard of ways to use the leftover nut/seed pulp as well, so I will have to try that next time.

                                              Sesame milk and my new water!