Leftover Butternut Squash Smoothies

Last night I roasted a whole butternut squash that has been in the fridge for nearly a month. It was a smallish squash, less than two pounds, but I still had two cups of leftover squash at the end of dinner.

As I stared at the remaining, flesh and the two bananas on the counter, I dreamt about breakfast. (Yes, I know, a full tummy and I can still daydream about my next meal.) Would a squash and banana smoothie be tasty?

Turns out yes, and I am not the first to pair the two. I googled and found two recipes that piqued my interest:

  • On the food blog, Perks of Being a Foodie, I found recipe that spiced up the smoothie so the author could get her pumpkin fix. And,
  • And VideoJug shows how to combine juice, bananas, and squash into a smoothie that kids will drink up.

Since I find the squash and banana sufficiently sweet, I omitted the honey and simply combined a banana, a cup of butternut squash, and some almond milk with ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. I suspect you can add any combination of spices. Any takes on a madras banana and squash smoothie?

Spicy squash & banana smoothie

Spicy squash & banana smoothie

In my research, I found a few other creative ideas that involve butternut squash. I did not want a pie or soup or gnocchi treat. Two recipes in that search have me thinking of new sauces and veggie ideas that go way beyond the squash.

Oh, and if you are wondering about our zero waste goal: I will eat the whole squash. Seeds can be roasted and the skin is edible. Simply roast your squash whole in the oven with a bit of oil and salt on the skin and you will have a tasty nosh that is 100% edible. I like it almost as much as baked potato skins.

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It’s a joke, right?

Cover - Good Omens

Sometime around the time Jean-Francois and I started dating, he presented me with a few books to read. Some were his favourites (Kurt Vonnegut), two were books he picked because he wanted to show that he “got me”. One, Foucault’s Pendulum, was a literary historical suspense thriller by Umberto Eco. It had me researching references for weeks. The other was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a comedy about the Second Coming that was also lush in layered interpretation, jokes, allusions and generally good fun.

There is one joke in Good Omens that is like a latent virus in my memory. It flares in response to certain events or topics centred on food and nutrition. It is a joke about one of the four riders of the Apocalypse: Famine. In this novel, Famine is a ruthless 1980’s business executive in the food industry. His latest two projects, Nouvelle Cuisine and Highly Processed Fast Food, both so beautifully meet his primary goal, that he cannot help being a bit smug. His goal, starving humans to death.
Why does Famine keep coming to mind? Because I think anyone who works in the industrialized food industry worships, intentionally or not, at his altar. My reading list this week supports this theory:
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, looks at the science behind make food we crave–even if it is bad for us. I am on the second chapter of this one, and really loving his investigated challenge to these moguls. It’s like he wants us to ask them all: How could you not know that you are helping to make us all sick?
Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner is more about how the demands of our lifestyles created a market for processed foods that now is making us fatter, slower, and sicker. Combined these two books look at the relationship between our desire for convenience to enjoy the good life and our desire to make enough money to have the good life.
And then there is Just Food by James E. McWilliams, published in 2009. This book looks at how those of us trying to make smarter, healthier, and more sustainable choices about what and how we eat, is creating deep anxiety in regular people. Basically we feel guilty all the time.
Each of these books is well-written and researched. But the subject matter makes me flip between the three. Why? Because each reminds me of Famine, and his cool, clean, metro sexual smugness. Pratchett and Gaiman were joking, trying to remind us that not all food is created equal. So, why are we still choosing to grow, make, market, and buy foods that hurt us and some many of our friends and family? Famine is winning despite the availability of nourishing food for many of us. (Don’t get me started thinking about all the food deserts created by executives who put cost benefits above humanity when deciding where grocery markets should be located.)
Yes, Jean-Francois always did understand how to set my mind on fire. He still does.

Honourable husks (a.k.a. Okara)

If you’ve studied Japanese, one thing you may have puzzled over is why some things earn the honorific prefix “o-” or “go-”, while other equally (or even more) noble things don’t. Why are beer and telephones (o-biru and o-denwa) worthy of honour, while wine and computers are not? It is a mystery.

Traditional foods often earn honorifics in Japanese, even humble ones like “o-kara” – a byproduct of the tofu making process. “Kara” literally means husk or shell, and okara is the pulp that you filter out of the soybean slurry to get soy milk. Anyone could be forgiven for not seeing what’s so honourable about it; it’s bland, and not known to make anyone’s mouth water (though one of our cats seems to like the smell).

That being said, okara does have some redeeming properties. It’s high in fiber, as you’d expect, and contains protein, calcium, iron, and riboflavin. It’s flexible. And, although it goes bad very quickly, it freezes nicely, so you can store it until you need it.

The Japanese have long understood that okara is a valuable food, not to be thrown away. There, it’s often served as a side dish, unohana, made with okara, vegetables, sugar, soy and sake. Unohana is served cold – and I ate it for years thinking it was made with tofu. It’s only when I moved to the United States and started making tofu that I realized what okara was, and had to start figuring out ways to use it (as every litre of soy milk generates about a cup of okara, and we weren’t about to throw it out).

So, for those of you who might be struggling to use up all the okara you generate, and who regularly throw some away, here are a few of the experiments we’ve tried, with varying levels of success:

Okara falafel: We found this recipe online last week and tried it out with a few changes. We added a bit more flour to give the mixture the consistency of drop biscuit batter, threw in some cayenne pepper, and used cilantro rather than parsley. The result was so good that we served it to guests recently (with some tahini, lemon and garlic sauce). Everyone enjoyed it, and was surprised to find out what they were eating. The “falafel” was dense, flavourful, and moist with a crispy crust. Simply amazing.

Okara falafel cooking

Okara falafel

Baking: Many people use okara in baking, and it gives breads body and moisture. Bonnie Lee used okara in the pumpkin bread I blogged about a few weeks ago. This was another huge success.

Pumpkin bread

Stealth okara: This isn’t one dish, but rather a class of dishes. Okara has the texture of porridge, and, being bland, can be mixed into a number of foods without significantly changing their flavour or texture. This includes things like mashed potatoes, actual porridge and polenta. Okara is almost undetectable in mashed potatoes and porridge (when it makes up about 25% of the volume). Okara made the polenta I tried creamier (I used ¼ cup corn meal, 2 cups water, and ¾ cups okara) – though I found that it set less well, and wasn’t suitable for slicing and frying the next day. These stealth applications are a great way to use up okara.

Vegan shepherd's pie

Okara polenta

Vegan pancakes: I haven’t experimented with this much, but did make one batch of my usual recipe substituting buttermilk with soy milk, and the eggs with okara. These ended up being heavy, but tasty enough. I use a mix of baking powder and baking soda, so a little dash of vinegar will help lighten them up next time.

Okara pancakes

Soups & eggs: We’ve added okara to a few soups and to omlettes. It can add a little grittiness to those if you overdo to okara, but we’ve had a few moderate successes there. More experimenting needed here.

Okara & eggs

Things we have yet to try: If you make tofu at home, I strongly suggest that you get The Book of Tofu, which has many ideas to springboard off of, including: okara soufflés, croquettes, chapaties, granola and a variety of baked goods.

Weekend food waste roundup – 6 January 2012

Dumpster Diver TV: Austrians Cook Up Food Waste Reality Show | The Salt : NPR Dumpster diving goes prime time in Austria. “Although I was prepared for large amounts,” the director for the project, David Gross, says, “the amount of waste left me speechless.”

Tiffins for all: Food cart owner wants to wean Vancouverites off disposable takeout containers | The Vancouver Sun – One Naan Kebab food cart owner wants to wean everyone off of disposable containers, Gandhidham style. The motivations and logistics aren’t the same in Vancouver as in India, but he thinks there is something to be learned from tiffins and dabbawalas.

Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. | Slate – A big turnaround by Mark Lynas. The full text of his speech is here, or, if you prefer to watch it, I’ve embedded it below.

07 Mark Lynas from Oxford Farming Conference on Vimeo.

Past and future tofu

I fell in love with the neighbourhood my first night there. I was in the new apartment, which was empty except for the blanket I was sitting on and a small lamp. It was early evening; I had settled down with a good book.

Bonnie Lee was still in our old place in Fukuoka, and I expected to have a quiet evening at home … but then the music started. It was traditional Japanese music, played on wood instruments, and drums, and it was coming from somewhere nearby.

Kosugi shrine

Kosugi shrine

And so I left the apartment, and followed the sound to our local shrine, which was teeming with people and activity. Food stalls lined the edges of the main open area, and in its centre, women clad in summer kimono danced the bon odori around a wooden scaffolding. As I worked my way through the crowd, I felt like I’d been dropped into the middle of a Bond film, minus the two guys chasing me.

Bon odori

Bon odori

It was a good place … and one that we would stay in for 10 years, the longest either of us has lived anywhere. The apartment was next to a park, which itself was next to a river. The city museum was a short walk away, as was the little centre around Shinmaruko station, with its restaurants and shops. It wasn’t long before we discovered the local tofu shop, which made fresh batches of all it’s products every morning, and only stayed open until the day’s stock was sold out. Everything they made was fresh and rich and somehow decadent … and all that soy-based goodness spoiled us for lesser goods.

Like the stuff we get in LA.

So, after more than a year of eating stale, somewhat bean-y tofu and soy milk, we decided to take matters into our own hands, and get ourselves a soy milk maker and some soy beans. I doubt that we’ll ever make anything that comes close to what we got at our little shop in Shinmaruko, but it is bound to be fresher than what we can get locally – and there are other reasons why this makes sense. One critical one is very dear to my heart: it will lead to less waste. We can make what we need when we need it – and the soy products we make will not need to be packaged in plastic or transported.

The day after I got back from my most recent trip, Bonnie Lee showed me how to make soy milk – nothing could be easier. You just need to soak the beans overnight, pop them in the soy milk maker with some water, push a button, wait while the machine heats the water and grinds and seeps the beans, then filter the product through cheese cloth. You can drink the milk as is, or add a coagulant and make tofu with it. And there’s a free bonus in every batch: the pulp that you filter out with the cheese cloth (called okara) is edible and versatile.

The soy milk we’ve been making is much lighter and more refreshing than the store-bought variety (which is thicker and often sweetened). It’s been very nice over our  home-made granola, and makes a great smoothie. As for the tofu and okara – I’ll save talking about what we’ve been doing with those for other posts.

In the meantime, if you’re curious you check out some of my shots of the old neighbourhood on flickr.

Thai tofu cakes – attempt #1

We never finish a block of tofu in one meal, so often have a bit of frozen tofu on hand. As I mentioned in a previous post, tofu keeps well in the freezer – and after you thaw it, squeeze the water out of it, and crumble it, you’re left with a chewy, porous protein that absorbs flavors well.

One thing I’ve been meaning to try with it for a while is something similar to Thai fish cakes, and I made my first attempt at that this weekend.

The result was a bit too bready, and the flavors were less strong than I like them, so this recipe isn’t quite ready for company yet – but it did make for a tasty, hearty lunch, and went well with sliced cucumber (tossed in rice vinegar, honey, red pepper & cilantro dressing with a pinch of salt).

Thai tofu cakes - attempt #1

Thai tofu cakes (serves 2)

 Ingredients

  • 8 oz tofu, frozen, thawed, squeezed then crumbled (see image below)
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp red curry paste
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 Serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 scallion, finely sliced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • About 12 Tbsp panko or fine breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 lime
  • 4 Tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce

Directions

  • Toss tofu with fish sauce, grated ginger, and red curry paste.
  • Add in the cilantro, Serrano pepper, scallion and eggs, and mix well.
  • Mix in the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is sticky enough to form patties.
  • Make 4 patties, and place them in the fridge for 10 minutes, to allow them to set.
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Cook patties until they are golden brown – about three minutes per side.
  • Serve hot, with Thai sweet chili sauce.
Tofu: frozen, thawed, squeezed and crumbled

Tofu: frozen, thawed, squeezed and crumbled

Rescued mushroom risotto

A few months back, I wrote an entry on stone soup, which suggested that people freeze vegetable peels and bits that they would normally compost or throw away, and then use them to make stock. If you followed that advice, you will have noticed by now that you generate a fair amount of stock. We end up making about 8 cups of it a week.

This week, I found myself with about six cups of stock to use up, and was in the mood for something heartier than soup. We also had a few oyster and porcini mushrooms that were drying up in the vegetable crisper – all of which added up to the perfect excuse to make a white wine and mushroom risotto.

I started by rehydrating the mushrooms in white wine, which not only made the mushrooms nice and plump, but also gave me a rich-coloured mushroomy liquid to start the risotto with. (Bonus! That wouldn’t happen with fresh mushrooms.) That, plus a stone soup broth that had strong corn, beet and celery notes made for a dish with a complex palette of flavours and a creamy texture. Not bad, considering that the slightly shriveled mushrooms and stock ingredients were all things that would have ended up in the bin in many homes.

Of course, we ended up with more risotto than we could eat in one sitting – but the leftovers made for very good risotto cakes.

One thing I should mention is that making risotto the old-fashioned way takes time (about 45 minutes) and much that time is spent stirring. If you don’t have time for that, you can make it in a rice cooker with a lot less fuss (there are a few recipes on-line). I’ve tried that, and the result was quite good, though not as good.

Mushroom risotto

Rescued mushroom risotto, served with faux meat balls & salad

Rescued mushroom risotto (serves 6)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dried mushrooms
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups stone soup (or other) stock
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ large onion, sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1½ cups Arborio rice
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Directions

  • Cover mushrooms in wine, and allow to reconstitute. This can take up to 30 minutes, depending on how dry the mushrooms were to begin with.
  • While the mushrooms are reconstituting, heat your stock in a deep skillet, and keep it warm over medium low heat.
  • When the mushrooms are reconstituted, set the liquid aside for later use. Sauté the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until they are tender – then set those aside for later use.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat, then toss in the sliced onion and crushed garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent.
  • Add in the Arborio rice, and sauté for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add in the liquid from the mushrooms, and stir until it the liquid absorbed.
  • Add in the warm soup stock, one ladleful at a time, and stir until the liquid is absorbed. When you’ve used up about ¾ of the stock, add in the mushrooms, and keep going. After each ladleful is absorbed, you should taste the risotto. When the the rice is al dente, and the sauce is creamy, it will be done. You may need a little less stock than indicated, or a little more. If you need more, and have run out, just use water that has been boiled and is still warm.
  • When the risotto is done, stir in one tablespoon of butter, the parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately.
Fun facts
Amount of shriveled mushrooms saved from landfill per six portions of rescued mushroom risotto. 1/4 cup
Approximate volume of shriveled mushrooms that could be saved from landfill every year if everyone in the US had 4 servings of rescued mushroom risotto a year. 12,000 cubic meters
Approximate volume of the Tower of Pisa. 10,000 cubic meters

222 million tons: the App

The idea behind 222 million tons has always been to spark conversation and change – and to do that by sharing tips, tools, and resources that help people waste less food and eat well. So far, that’s only been through this blog, but as of last week, we have an iPad App in iTunes.

The App is a publishing platform for weekly menus and shopping lists. The recipes all work for a single person (though through the miracle of technology, they can be scaled), and use up all the fresh ingredients on the shopping lists.

The idea was Bonnie Lee’s, and emerged out of her frustration over the amount of food she was wasting when she first moved from Tokyo to Los Angeles. She was overwhelmed by the quantities that food was sold in, and had no idea how a single person could use it all before it spoiled. In Japan, there are home economics magazines that help people save money by providing weekly shopping lists and recipes, but she couldn’t find anything like that in L.A. – and all the recipes she could find served 6 to 12 people. Bonnie Lee doesn’t like leftovers … so she issued me a challenge, which led to this App, built by our friends & partners at bluejava: Glenn & Makiko.

The first collection of recipes is called Bright & Bold, and was written by me (more on that another day), but my hope is that the 222 millions tons App will become a platform on which a large community of home cooks shares recipes – and if anyone reading this is interested in becoming part of that community, let me know via the comments below, or through any of the community platforms listed on my Gravatar profile.

The key to reducing food waste at home is planning – and as I wrote Bright & Bold, I came to appreciate the challenge of planning whole weeks for a single person with both variety and zero waste. So, if you don’t have time to plan meals, but hate waste and like to eat well … well, now there’s an App that can help.

Dry vegetable curry with cauliflower leaves & stems

One way to minimize waste is to have a few go-to recipes for the unused odds and bits that accumulate in the vegetable crisper. One of mine is dry vegetable curry. It’s a quick and tasty way to cook up whatever vegetables you have on hand.

This past the weekend I made some roasted cauliflower florets, which meant that I had a cauliflower stem and some cauliflower leaves to use up – and those made up the bulk of my most recent dry curry. I also threw in a couple of carrots, mushrooms, and plum tomatoes, as well as a few green beans and part of an onion.

In case you’ve spent your life blithely throwing away cauliflower stems and leaves, let me just point out a few things:

  • Cauliflower stems and leaves are food.
  • My most recent cauliflower weighed about 2 lbs 9 oz, and of that 9 ounces was made up of stem and leaves. That’s 22% of the cauliflower. If you’ve spent your life throwing these parts away (and if we use that 22% as an average), then for every 9 cauliflowers you’ve ever bought, you’ve thrown away 2 cauliflowers worth of perfectly usable food that you paid for. You probably don’t do this with donuts. Or socks.
  • Cauliflower stems may be less pretty than florets, but they taste similar, and are very tender. I usually just cut the big central stem in half, then cut those halves into slices.
  • Cauliflower leaves are very tender and thin at the tips, and cook up like any leafy green. Near the base, the leaves are more like cabbage, but more watery (which balances hot spices nicely) and not as tough.

I served this week’s dry curry with some turmeric rice and watermelon rind chutney (which we’re close to running out of). Easy. Tasty.

Dry vegetable curry (for 1)

Dry vegetable curry

Ingredients

  • Enough oil to grease your skillet
  • 1 cup mixed chopped vegetables
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp tamarind paste (or 1 tsp lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • ¾ tsp dry curry mix (see below)

Dry curry mix (these days)

  • 2 parts cumin
  • 2 parts paprika
  • 2 parts turmeric
  • 2 parts mustard powder
  • 1 part garam masala
  • 1 part cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 part cinnamon
  • 1 part brown sugar
  • 1 part salt (or to taste)

Directions

Sauté the vegetables over medium heat in oil until just shy of desired tenderness. OK, this is vague, but the timing depends on the vegetables you use, the size you cut them, and how tender you like them. Also, you’ll want to add things that take longer to cook a little earlier. I like my vegetables crunchy, so this step usually takes me 4 or 5 minutes.

Add in the garlic and ginger, and sauté for an additional 30 seconds.

Add in the tamarind paste (or lemon), vinegar, and dry curry spice mix, and stir until vegetables are coated.

Serve.

Fun facts
Annual per capita demand for cauliflower in the US 1.7 lbs
Total annual demand for cauliflower in the US 264,853 short tons
Unnecessary food waste created if no one in the US eats cauliflower stems & leaves (assuming they represent 22% of mass of cauliflowers) 58,267 short tons
Equivalent number of 2lb 9oz cauliflowers 45,476,682
Cargo mass of a Boeing 747-8F 295,800 lbs
Minimum number of Boeing 747-8Fs needed carry all that waste 394

Stone soup dahl

About a month ago, I wrote an entry on what I call stone soup. The recipe in that entry is simple:

…whenever I peel or chop vegetables or meats, I toss any bits that would usually be destined for the compost or garbage bin into a colander, wash them, then put them in a container in the freezer.  When I want to make stock, I throw the stone-like frozen scraps into water and boil.

As one friend noted, though, “Ive started my stone soup freezer bag! Once you start, it grows quickly!” Very quickly – and the challenge is to find varied ways to use up all that stock (we end up making about 8 cups of it every weekend). Last week, I did something based on this great dahl recipe from  Wolfgang Puck, and it’s definitely a keeper.

For the version I made, I used brown lentils, rather than orange ones – and stone soup stock rather than chicken stock. The stock that week was made with a healthy amount of beet peelings, and was dark colored with earthy tones, which worked perfectly in this recipe. I served the dahl with some homemade dosa (a rice and lentil batter pancake), kale salad, a spicy coleslaw, and some watermelon rind chutney – a satisfying, warming meal.

One thing to note: unless you’re catering a wedding, I suggest that you make about a quarter of the recipe at the link. That makes about 4 normal sized servings.