Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Going Green in the Kitchen Part 2: Reducing Food Waste + a Recipe

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By now many people have heard the statistic about how ridiculously much food Americans waste each year; as much as 40% of all food in the US is wasted. This not only has real environmental effects but also economic effects; this doesn’t consider how this food could contribute to ending hunger in America. I could probably go on and on about the effects of America’s consumption habits and wastefulness but I will get down off of my soapbox and tell you small ways that I try to reduce food waste.

1. Learning to Love Leftovers-      I could wax poetic about leftovers. Nothing makes me happier during the work day than opening my lunchbox and heating up leftovers of a good meal that I cooked (or didn’t cook) the night before. In some cases, leftovers are even better than meals prepared the night beforehand; the flavors have married and sometimes I add some extra veggies or seasoning, perfecting the flavor. I cannot imagine how much food I would throw out or how much less I would cook if I didn’t eat leftovers. For us, it is so much easier to make a dinner for four and then eat leftovers once or twice than only cook just enough for the two of us. If you don’t eat leftovers, I would encourage you to start by repurposing leftovers. For instance, if you cook pork carnitas in the crockpot, have tacos with it one night and burrito rice bowls  another night or Mexican lasagna the next.

2. Reduced Produce-      I love to shop the reduced produce shelves at some of my favorite grocery stores. Something about snagging ten apples for $2 or a dozen bananas for less than a dollar makes my heart sing. As a college student, buying reduced produce at my favorite health food store allowed me to eat really healthy, organic food for less than most of my peers were paying for not so healthy food. Shopping from those magical shelves also gave me a Chopped-style challenge. How do I use up two peppers, spinach, apples, peaches, and herbs before they go to the bad? And, in case you were wondering, this food is perfectly edible, although often the fruits and vegetables have a few bumps or bruises (only affecting the aesthetic appeal) or need to be eaten in the next day or two.


This is a picture of a bag of apples I purchased for about a dollar. I would guess that this same amount of apples normally would be around $3 or $4.

Recently, I nabbed a lot of reduced produce from Harris Teeter. In my money-saving high, I didn’t think about how I would actually use this fruit that I bought for a total of maybe $5; my loot included two bags of apples, a bag of oranges, and a dozen bananas (a lot of food for two people, especially since I eat most of the fruit in the house). I normally do not buy bananas but was excited to get to use these in baked goods; immediately my wheels started turning about what to make. The bananas ended up being eaten plain, with peanut butter, in pancakes, and finally in these baked goodies that are a Sarah original but turned out surprisingly well. They are not very sweet because I do not like to feel like I am eating dessert for breakfast (most of the time). They are easy to make without the hassle of using a mixer and have a great texture; the flavor has a hint of banana with a chew from the cereal and oats. Two of these cookies and a glass of almond milk were hardy enough to hold me over until lunch! Hoorah for reduced produce, bruised bananas!


Banana Cereal Breakfast Cookies

1/2 c. whole wheat flour

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. plain cereal (I used 1/4 c. Grape Nuts, 1/4 c. Corn Flakes)

3/4 c. oats

1/3 c. pecans

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 c. coconut oil, melted

1 banana, mashed

1/4 c. maple syrup

1/4 c. sugar

1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients, from flours to cinnamon. Combine the coconut oil, banana, maple syrup, sugar, and egg in a small bowl and stir to combine; add wet ingredients to dry and mix. The dough will be somewhat crumbly. Take about 1/4 cup of dough, roll into a ball and then press slightly with a fork. Bake for 12 minutes. Yield 10 medium-large cookies.


**To learn more about reducing waste, the documentary Dive (available on Netflix) is very interesting. Although I am not planning on dumpster diving anytime soon (the whole illegal trespassing thing is holding me back), the movie is very informative and as a lover of all food documentaries I found it interesting.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Going Green in the Kitchen: Homemade Nut Butter

Growing up my mother made a famous “Chex Mix,” strictly by the recipe printed on the box many moons ago. This mix was the main reason that she would buy an infamously large, tempting blue can of mixed nuts. Standing in the kitchen, talking to my family or just grazing hungrily afterschool, I could put a major dent in that blue can of mixed nuts. Granted, I mainly picked out the good stuff, the non- peanuts coated in salt and roasted to perfection. When I finally summoned the willpower to stop eating the mixed nuts, my fingers would be covered in a thin film of oil and salt. Needless to say, mixed nuts have a special place in my heart.

Recently, I found a new kind of mixed nuts to get hooked on. This huge container of roasted, lightly salted mixed nuts is sold at Aldi for a great price. This particular kind of mixed nuts are a real winner for me because they are not too salty and contain no peanuts, just the good stuff! Inevitably,  I cannot leave well enough alone and just eat the mixed nuts. So, I made these deliciously simple mixed nuts into nut butter and I wasn’t disappointed by my experiment. Below are my wholesome and simple ingredients, agave nectar (organic, fair trade), roasted and salted mixed nuts, coconut oil (organic), and vanilla extract.


The formula:

    • 2 cups salted, roasted mixed nuts
    • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
    • 2 tsp. agave nectar
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

**cinnamon and cocoa powder would also make delicious add-ins

The process:

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Process for 10 to 15 minutes, until the nuts begin to release their oils, instead of looking chalky or chunky. Pack it into a mason jar and tada! it is ready for apple dipping or putting on toast with good jam. Keep in the fridge for long-term storage;  the nut butter can be microwaved to soften to a spreadable consistency.

This mixed nut butter is a little sweet with a definite hit of vanilla flavor that goes well with the richness of the roasted nuts. In the past, I have always trusted the fun grinders in the bulk section of grocery stores (I know I am not the only one to find these somewhat amusing, right?) to grind my nut butters or defaulted to Skippy Natural Peanut Butter; this is only my second attempt at nut butter. During this process of making my own nut butter, I found that making your own is a true test of patience. During the middle of the process, I was afraid that I had messed up somehow because I didn’t think it looked right, but it had been in the food processor for over five minutes! However, I refused to proceed with processing the nuts until Jerry reassured me that our food processor was still covered under its first year warranty and that if it conked out I wouldn’t be responsible and we could get another one. Phew! Back to business, I continued using the food processor until the nuts turned into a creamy butter.

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The green: Anytime I can use bulk ingredients, such as a humongous container of mixed nuts or bag of bulk nuts, I jump at the opportunity. You can save disposable packaging and often recycle or reuse the bag/container. Next time, I would possibly try this recipe with organic nuts which do not contain the pesticides applied to conventionally grown nuts. This leads me to my next reason why making your own nut butter can be more environmentally friendly, not only can you reduce packaging but you can control exactly what goes into your nut butter. Peanuts can absorb pesticides especially well and are one of the plants with higher concentrations of pesticides that are ingested (no peanuts in mine though). I am not advocating that you use organic ingredients (I only purchase some things organic) but it at least makes me feel better to be familiar with what is in the food I eat, instead of ingesting mystery partially hydrogenated oils that are often found in the old-fashioned peanut butter I grew up eating.


So, if you have time to spare and the ingredients on hand, consider making nut butter as a delicious, “green” staple for your household! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A New Series and Catching Up

Just to catch you up on my life in the last several weeks, I will share five highlights:

1. Free Cone Day on April 8th at Ben and Jerry’s! I first tried Ben and Jerry’s at Davidson and fell in love with both their ice cream and the company’s purchasing principals (organic, fair trade ingredients whenever possible). Basically, Free Cone Day was my motivation while I was taking the GRE that morning. FYI, ice is always good motivation, at least for this girl.20140408_122320_resized

2. Mornings made glorious. For breakfast, I have been eating a lot of these morning glory muffins that although not photogenic were quite tasty. I also have been eating a lot of a cranberry apple bake that all the women in my family make (imagine the most delicious concoction of cranberries, apples, oats, butter, and sugar that can be eaten as a side, dessert, or breakfast- YUM!).


3. Homemade bread. In the last month, I have been on a homemade bread kick, baking homemade whole wheat buns, the no-knead whole wheat bread pictured below, and whole wheat sandwich loaves. I had the idea of making a double batch of sandwich bread last time and freezing one. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before because it makes homemade bread during the middle of the week very do-able.


4. Spring flavors. Jerry and I used our citrus juicer attachment to make lemonade. I had never made homemade lemonade. It was delicious but I never knew lemonade required so many lemons! I am planning on making some Easter favorites, like challah, hot cross buns, carrot cake, and/or pineapple upside down cake in the coming week.

5. Finding joy in the little things. Lately, I have shifted my mindset from anxious because of uncertainty about a job for next year to just savoring each moment. I know it sounds cliché but it is so true. Lately, I have enjoyed taking our dog Louie for long walks, savoring “me” time, exploring the Charlotte area with Jerry (new restaurants or grocery stores, hiking, etc.), catching up with friends, volunteering for a good cause close to my heart, and reminiscing about the past while anticipating the future.


Also, I want to announce a new series that I will be doing on my blog, Going Green in the Kitchen.

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I am embarking on this project in the hopes of becoming more mindful about how I consume products in the kitchen. As an environmental studies concentrator at Davidson, it always seemed easy to be active in environmental clubs and walk to the health food store or the farmer’s market, both right down the road. However, living in an apartment with someone else to feed is much harder. I can’t just buy the things I want to buy, some of which have been deemed “strange” by Jerry. Also, Healthy Home Market and the farmer’s market are not quite so close and I have to be deliberate about where I spend my money. With all of these things in mind, I am launching this series, as both a personal challenge and hopefully an inspiration to others. Disclaimer, I am not sure how long this series will run but I plan to post weekly.

Coming up soon, homemade almond butter!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kahlua Black Bean Brownies

I normally research what kind of cake I want to make for my birthday months ahead of time. Since I wasn’t able to bake my own cake last year in Costa Rica, this year I wanted to really make my cake count. Needless to say, I had my recipe picked out a month in advance and braved rush hour, pre-snow storm traffic for my first trip to the ABC store. You could say I was pretty invested in this cake by the time February rolled around. I had my recipe for the cake that I found this blog and an icing recipe from Southern Living.

Let me preface this baking adventure by saying that even though I am a scientist and a loyal follower of Alton Brown’s book about the science behind baking, I’m Just Here for More Food, I can be a bit imprecise in the kitchen and don’t follow a recipe to a tee.  I am also that person that gets so excited about having company over that she runs to her folder of recipes to try or to a new cookbook and pick out something to make that she has never tried before (my mother and grandmothers will never understand this). But, on February 22nd, with less than twelve hours to bake and ice my birthday cake before company arrived, I was leaving nothing to chance. I was very precise and followed the recipe exactly. It paid off and the cake turned out better than I imagined, both in taste and in appearance. It was chocolate-y and dense without being overly sweet and the hint of Kahlua in the icing and cake really set it apart from the run-of-the-mill chocolate cake.

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This cake solidified Kahlua’s role in baked goods produced in my kitchen. So, I wanted to use it in something else, although I hoped it would be a slightly healthier. I thought what better way to use it than in chocolate-y lightened up brownies? I had tried this brownie recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie months ago and loved it. I made the brownies more fudge-y and chocolate-y with a very subtle hint of Kahlua that enhanced the chocolate and added a little something extra. Mission accomplished.


Kahlua Black Bean Brownies

Adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie

1 1/2 c. black beans (1 15 oz. can, rinsed and drained well)

3 Tbsp. cocoa powder

1/2 c. oats (quick cooking or regular)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/3 c. + 1 Tbsp. agave nectar

1/4 c. coconut oil, melted

1 Tbsp. Kahlua (Baileys Irish Cream may work too, but I haven’t tried it)

3/4 c. chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 x 8” pan. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in the bowl of a food processor; process until very smooth. Mix in the chocolate chips. Pour the brownie batter into the pan and cook for 15-18 minutes. The brownies will still be gooey (so do not rely on the toothpick test), let them rest in the pan for 10 minutes before cutting.


BB Brownies

Another way I have found to enjoy these brownies, with leftover birthday cake icing!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NYC Eats: Part 2

As you can tell, I kind of enjoyed eating nonstop on my honeymoon. So, below are some more of my favorite meals and bites from the Big Apple.

Ethnic Eats

On our last night in New York, we wanted a really delicious but not too fancy meal that we could chase with a wonderful dessert eaten on the red steps in Times Square. After consulting Yelp, we decided on a hole-in-the-wall Mexican spot called El Centro with charming decor. My entrée, the vegetable chilaquiles, was ridiculously delicious. For those that haven’t eaten chilaquiles, they are tortilla chips smothered in sauce and topped with cheese, vegetables, and/or a protein. Mine were topped with grilled vegetables and fresh avocado slices. It was the perfect textural combination with the creamy avocado and sauce, smoky grilled vegetables, and a slightly sour drizzle of crema. These were hands down the best chilaquiles I have ever had. If only I hadn’t filled up so much on guacamole and chips beforehand….


We also chose ethnic food before we went to see the play Matilda. We ate at a French-Moroccan restaurant that I had heard was a nice sit-down restaurant, Marseille, which was very close to both our hotel and the theater and turned out to be a good choice overall. I could have easily filled up on the bread that was brought out to start the meal, a rustic multigrain and a French bread with olives, served with good quality olive oil. We restrained ourselves to only two baskets (we were trying to be refined to blend in with our surroundings). I ordered a seafood stew in a flavorful tomato broth served with a side of couscous. I was served so much seafood, including clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, and monkfish. No picture because like I said we were trying to keep it classy.

Also, while we were on our ethnic food kick, we had to eat Chinese. I have visited several Chinatowns and enjoyed taking in the sights and smells that are so exotic to me. Yet, I was determined on this trip to New York’s Chinatown to do more than gawk and smell, but to actually eat a meal there. So, we had a multicourse lunch that left me filling stuffed but blown away by how cheap our culinary tour of Chinatown was. First, we started at Vanessa’s Dumplings. We ordered fried pork dumplings and a red bean steamed bun. Both were delicious. The pork filling was flavored with chives and melted in your mouth with the fattiness of the pork and the crisp exterior. The steamed bun was delicious but very different from anything I had ever had; the filling of the steamed bun was sweet but was flavorful. Our tab at Vanessa’s was a whole $2.20. Next, we went to a noodle restaurant that at first looked pretty sketchy (we later learned was visited by Guy Fieri),  called Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles.  I had the pan fried duck noodles. The skin on the meat was rendered to become crispy and so rich. The noodles were unlike any other I have ever had; they were decidedly doughy but very fresh and coated with a light sauce. I hadn’t planned on having dessert because I was absolutely stuffed but I had never been in an Asian bakery and one of them called my name. I went inside with the most innocent intentions of “just looking” but of course came out with a steamed egg custard bun. At $.85 it was a cheap but delicious dessert.


The Best of Breakfast and Dessert (pretty much interchangeable here)

Our last morning in New York, I knew I had to try one of the famous waffles from Wafels and Dinges. Unfortunately, we were a long way from the actual waffle shop so walked to a cabana location in a small green space. Although eating waffles outside in 30-degree weather wasn’t the ideal situation, the waffles still proved worth the walk and cold weather. I ordered the Liege Waffle, which is known as the “other Belgian waffle”. It was light and soft, a perfect palate for dinges, or toppings. I ordered mine with Speculoos cookie spread and bananas. It was warm and not overly sweet, perfect for a light breakfast (soon to be followed by a bagel).


While in the Chelsea section of the city to visit the infamous foodie mecca, The Chelsea Market, we had to stop by a place we had seen on Unique Sweets, a show on Cooking Channel that I cannot get enough of, Doughnut Plant. There were two doughnuts in particular that I had seen on the show that just called my name, the Crème Brulee doughseed and the Carrot Cake doughnut. Normally, I do not go for cake doughnuts but I LOVE carrot cake, so I went for it. The doughseed was a small yeasted doughnut hole with a crisp, caramelized sugar exterior and a creamy interior. It was very good, but the carrot cake doughnut stole my heart with its cream cheese filling and fresh nuts and carrots on the outside.


Bouchon Bakery is that place that you see in the background on NBC’s Today Show. But, it is not just a bakery in the background, it is a magical little shop created by one of the French baking greats, Thomas Keller. We snuck in right before it closed and I am so glad we didn’t arrive fifteen minutes later. I have been an éclair fan for basically my whole life but I am admittedly picky about them. Don’t even think about putting whipped filling in the middle and calling it an éclair, there must be a perfectly creamy vanilla custard in there. But, when I saw a dulce de leche éclair, I knew that this matchup of two things I love could be delicious. Dulce de leche, a custardy cream, candied pecans, and then a caramel chocolate bar. It was very sweet but the different textures made it a truly unique éclair.


Last but not least, is Magnolia Bakery. Magnolia Bakery is well-known for their cupcakes; but, since I am not much of a cupcake person, I opted for a slice of one of the elegant layer cakes. First of all, I have never been handed a slice of cake that was so large. Although it was also one of the more expensive pieces of cake I have ever ingested, I literally could not eat the whole thing in one sitting and that is saying a lot because I have a well-known tolerance for all things sweet and rich. I ate a piece of gingerbread cake with meringue frosting. It was a delicious, airy cake with a very balanced pairing of flavors.


That’s all for now! I hope to bring you a recipe post soon!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

NYC: The Honeymoon Eats

It seems as if my honeymoon was eons away, especially as I am interning, substitute teaching, trailing behind our new puppy with a green “dog waste” bag, washing laundry, and in general getting back to the real world. Before I get to the food, I just have to share a picture of our  Boxer-Pointer mix puppy, Louie, from the Humane Society. He has the sweetest face and a personality to match. Jerry and I are so in love with him (except when he pukes in his cage, whines constantly, or tears his bed to shreds)! Now to the food!


We ate some amazing food in New York City. In fact, there were times that Jerry said he felt like we were always eating. But, I know that I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it. I had been looking forward to honeymooning in New York for a long time; aside from the ice skating, exploring, and seeing Matilda on Broadway, the food was definitely one of the things I was most looking forward to. I called on the help of several friends familiar with the city and did my research on Serious Eats and Yelp. Overall, I was very happy with what we ate and glad that we walked miles around the city and exercised in the workout room every day to keep from gaining five pounds in our five days there.

There were a few things that were quintessential New York foods that we had to eat. These included bagels, pizza, cheesecake, and black and white cookies. We also hit up restaurants and bakeries I had heard about. We only had two negative experiences and those were at quintessential New York delis, no names but in my opinion those types of establishments aren’t worth it on a visit to the city. So, on to the good stuff!

New York Favorites

After some research about good pizza in New York, I chose Angelo’s Pizza. It wasn’t traditional New York style pizza but I daresay that I liked the coal-fired pizza served here better than I would have liked a super thin-crusted New York style slice. This was a Margherita style pizza with mozzarella, a not-too-sweet red sauce, and fresh basil leaves. The crust was crisp with a little bit of a char around the edges. It was simple but one of the freshest pizzas I have ever eaten. I was able to eat my whole half of the pizza, as a result of both the deliciousness and hunger from eating lunch at 2:00.


Half plain and half with added pepperoni, I think you can guess which side was mine.

Again, I did a lot of research about what bagels were the best; naturally, they had to be hand-rolled and freshly made. I decided that we would try Murray’s Bagels. The shop was cozy with so many different types of bagels to choose from. Jerry and I split this whole wheat bagel with cream cheese as a second breakfast before our flight out. The bagel was delicious, with a slightly tough exterior and a tender inside. There was a bit too much cream cheese for me, but I don’t really like plain cream cheese, I much prefer it in icing. We took home half a dozen bagels, including cinnamon raisin, multigrain, and a seed and nut bagel. I loved mine toasted with almond butter.


After seeing the magical, took-me-back-to-my-childhood play Matilda, Jerry and I knew that a dessert to take back to the room was a must. I suggested an old favorite, Junior’s cheesecake. I had eaten it on other trips to New York and knew that Junior’s rich cheesecake with a thin sponge cake crust was well worth the trip and the almost $7 a slice. I chose cherry because although I like to eat super fancy desserts, sometimes a simple but classic dessert hits the spot; this was one of those. I forgot to take a picture before I dug in so please forgive me.


In my next post, I will explore more of my favorite foods from the trip.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I’m Back!

My long hiatus from blogging is over and I hope that I am here to stay. Through the years I have figured out that this blog is something that gives me personal happiness and gives me an outlet for writing and, more importantly, gushing about food. Jerry (my new husband, in case you didn’t know) really probably gets tired of me talking about food, reading bloglovin, and spending countless hours in the kitchen baking or cooking (maybe he doesn’t get tired of that one, just the dishes that result!). But, for those of you that do read this blog, thank you! Although I do the blog for me, it is nice to be heard.

There is no way to properly catch you up on everything that has happened in the last six months or so, but three of the most notable would probably be finishing at Davidson (this was definitely the hardest out of my seven semesters of college), getting married, and moving into an apartment in Charlotte. Although I didn’t blog, I did do some writing and lots of eating. Over the next few months you will certainly see bits and pieces of this time. For now, I want to tell you about some of the best eating I have done EVER.

Jerry and I got married on January 11th. It was a beautiful winter wedding that I thought was absolutely perfect. Although it probably wasn’t flawless, it was the best day of my life thus far and I will cherish the sacredness of the service and the good times (and food) had with friends and family at the reception. I could gush on and on about the food for the rehearsal dinner and reception, but I won’t bore you, especially since there are no pictures….yet. But, I will say that the wedding cake was a complete success. I ordered it from Maxie B’s, a bakery in Greensboro, NC. It was decorated simply but beautifully with frosted fruit, a rustic icing finish, and an “L” topper I bought on Etsy. We got so many compliments on the cake. Everyone said it was the best they had ever had. This was music to my ears. I loved the compliments I got on my dress but compliments on the cake validated my love for and knowledge of cake. Basically, I can be easily won over by complimenting my taste in food. The only sad part was that Jerry and I split a piece. I don’t know what I was thinking not asking for another piece from a different tier, obviously I was a bit busy receiving friends and family. The bottom layer of the cake that we cut from was carrot cake, the next layer was strawberry buttercream, and the third and anniversary layers were red velvet. I am happy to report that there was no smushing of cake in each others’ face. I had threatened Jerry with an annulment if he did and cake got on my dress, not a good start to a marriage.

More to come next time on our honeymoon food in New York. And, more in the way of pictures too!