Feasting on Leftovers: A little pesto goes a long way

Jean-Francois arrived from Singapore on Saturday last with renewed energy and a clear goal: Complete our vegetarian cookbook in six weeks. But that requires a clean kitchen and an empty fridge. To prepare, I made all our meals with an eye to waste nothing and have no food in our home by the end of the week.

For the most part our meals at home are vegetarian. Not vegan, but meat is rarely on the menu. This week was no exception, save for an evening of miso-glazed halibut (wild caught from Alaska, approved by our Seafood Watch app) and served with flavoured rice and lemon roasted brussels sprouts.  I only mention this meal, because it is the trigger for what follows.

I had leftover rice and sprouts from that meal, so for last night’s dinner I wanted to give these morsels a second chance to dazzle. And use up some aging produce. Here is what I did.

Menu, Leftovers for two:

Pesto Blessed Leftovers

  • Vegetarian Meatballs  with okara (not egg) (recipe from The Meatball Shop)
  • Asparagus with lemon butter sauce (14 stalks)
  • Pesto Fried Rice with brussels sprouts, peppers, and onions
  • Blue cheese basil pesto

Everything but the asparagus was either a leftover or on its way out the door. (Note: I made the meatballs about six weeks ago and froze them in batches of 6, we thawed our last bag for future meals.

1. Warm the meatless meatballs.

Preheat over to 350F. Place meatless balls in baking dish, cover tightly to prevent drying.  Heat in over about 20 minutes, until heated through.

2. Prepare the pesto, add:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup of cashews
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 oz. blue cheese

To food processor and pulse until it becomes a coarse paste. Set aside.

3. Start the rice, Cook:

  • 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

In a skillet with 1 Tablespoon olive oil, until onions start to brown. Add:

1 1/2 cups leftover rice (no need to be exact) and leftover brussels sprouts. Stir until hot. Add:

  • 2 gobs of pesto
  • Salt to taste

Set aside until ready to serve.

4. Pan-fry prepared asparagus in a bit of olive oil over medium heat

Until browned, about ten minutes. Turn off heat and add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon butter and toss until sauce coats stalks evenly. Serve.

The pesto also serves as a dipping sauce for the meatballs. Jean-Francois topped his rice with the lemon-butter sauce.

Comments on the meal: 

  • We thought the blue cheese might over power the pesto, but the two were very nicely paired. We will use the remainder of the pesto with pasta on Saturday.
  • The rice was rather tasty.
  • We had enough fried rice leftover to make an egg hash for breakfast. Just add two eggs.
  • Those meatballs are very dry, made more so by the freezing. Considering the long list of ingredients and the time required to prepare them, you will want to make sure you find ways to “pimp them out”. The recipe makes 24 balls, which is a lot for two people. And since I am not a fan of lentils, I doubt I will be making these again.

All told we managed to eat every bit of veg in the fridge. When we shop on Saturday, it will be like starting with a new fridge.

On another note: I am in search of muslin cotton for making tofu and soy milk. My supply has turned to rags and I cannot find any cheesecloth here that is fine enough. If anyone can point me to a decent vendor, I would be over the moon. We miss our tofu and milk. Thanks.

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March: It’s Celery’s Month

Does anyone out there know who decides which events, foods, people will be celebrated each month of the year? I ask because March is National Celery Month. (It is also Nutritional Health Awareness month, Women’s History month, and frozen foods month.) Why does celery deserve a whole month of celebration?

Sausage pizza with cornmeal crust

Celery: only good as a supporting role?

Personally I get it. This blog owes its existence to celery (or rather our lack of it) when we lived in Japan and pined for days when we could buy more than one stalk of celery at a time. Silly us. Now in Los Angeles, we always looking for new ways to use a full head of celery before it goes limp.

After all, there has to be more to celery than mirepoix and hors d’oeuvres?

Moving beyond Ants on a Log

Last March, Jean-Francois wrote about a surprisingly refreshing tall glass of celery. What he did not mention Pepsi’s attempt to market cucumber soda in Japan for a week or two. And Dr. Browns sells a celery soda. Maybe drinking celery (and cucumbers) might be fun way to bring out our Irish this week.

Celery is crunchy, naturally salty, and nutritious. It can be grilled, pureed, creamed, steamed, fried, pickled, infused, baked, and braised. Huffington Post has some fun ideas for celery, including a salsa with green olives and mint.

Yesterday, cooking for one, I attempted to make celery and mushroom ravioli. If you are vegan, try substituting wet okara or soy-cheese for the egg and cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 chopped onion
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 wonton wrappers

Recipe:

  1. Heat olive oil in skillet.
  2. Add onions and celery. Cook until translucent.
  3. Add mushrooms and salt. Cook until all water evaporates.
  4. Transfer onions, celery and mushrooms to food processor. Add cheese and egg and blend into a paste.
  5. Put about 1 teaspoon of paste in each wrapper. Use water or egg to seal the wrappers.
  6. Cook ravioli in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.

I ate these bundles with a lemon butter sauce. However, I have no photo to share because I ate them in 3 minutes flat. But I will try this again, maybe adding nuts to the filling to help give the meal more weight. And I will take a photo.

In January, The New York Times published five celery recipes that put my creative effort to shame. I can’t wait to try the “Pan-Cooked Celery with Tomatoes and Parsley” and “Celery Risotto with Dandelion Greens or Kale”.

Healthy Family, a blog dedicated to living organically and healthfully, also shares four celery recipes for March, including a breakfast drink, a soup, a salad, and a treat with salmon.

By the way, 22 March is World Water Day. May we all slake our thirst and raise our passions with a stick of celery, an ice cube, and Betty Friedan.

So, we tried to cook the Christmas tree…

It was the morning of Epiphany, and as we lifted the ornaments off the branches, it seemed like the most logical thing in the world. Why not cook the Christmas tree? Surely, that was far better aligned with our values than simply getting the thing mulched.

In retrospect, it was probably the guilt getting the better of me. The decision to get a tree had not been reached easily, as the whole idea seemed to be at odds with our approach to sustainability. What’s more, trees have never really been a tradition for us. In Japan, getting a tree simply wasn’t an option – and even before that, we had rarely spent Christmases at home. It wasn’t a choice we were 100% comfortable with. So we had hemmed. Then we had hawed. And, after careful deliberation, we had decided to indulge, just this once. A tree would allow us to hang ornaments that have sat largely unused for years, act as a festive backdrop to our Epiphany Eve party, and (perhaps most importantly) provide the cats with hours of entertainment.

Now that all that was in the past, all I saw was a tree that had been chopped down for no justifiable reason. It didn’t help that the cats, who go insane when a single flower enters the house, and who took great joy in beating up our little paper tree in Japan, had doggedly ignored the eight foot giant covered in shiny baubles from the day it had been put up. That had been a particularly cruel twist of the knife.

Obligatory family Xmas portrait

Cooking the tree would make all this right.

Yes, guilt was definitely a factor, as was the knowledge that such guilt lingers. The 1993 tree still haunts me … it haunts both of us. This was the only other real Christmas tree we’d ever bought. Our then nascent concern for the planet had compelled us to get a living tree for Christmas that year, one that would stay with us for years to come. Even before New Year’s came around, though, it was clear that we had managed to kill the thing. We didn’t have the gardening skills to even keep an evergreen green. As stewards of the planet, we were batting 0.

It’s also probably important to point out that I’d had a few drinks the night before, and that was definitely affecting my judgement – though not because there was still alcohol coursing through my veins. What I’d drunk the night before were some Dark ‘n Stormy’s, made with our homemade ginger beer. The ginger beer was dry, exploding with ginger, and had been a hit with the guests. I felt some lingering pride over the brew … and somehow that pride convinced me that I could do wonders with tree.

Dark 'n stormy night ahead

Pride and guilt alone, however, were not solely responsible for my new plans for the tree – nostalgia also played a role. Christmas trees and ornaments come with thoughts of childhood, and with those thoughts a memory of something I hadn’t thought of in years emerged: bierre d’épinette, a.k.a. spruce beer. This was a drink of childhood – a very regional one – and I the last time I’d had any was a home-brewed version at a little greasy spoon in Montreal, over 20 years ago. I can still taste it.

So, once Bonnie Lee was on board, we pruned off a few branches, boiled them for a while, then added some sugar and yeast and waited for the magic to happen, happy in the knowledge that we’d have a new recipe to share soon – one that would not only turn Christmas trees into food, but also cure scurvy.

Cooking the tree

It’s really hard to describe what a good bierre d’épinette tastes like. It has a pleasant complexity, and like many great local foods, the ability to repulse anyone who was not raised with it. Our version lacked some of that complexity, and, with it’s distinct pine freshener tones, lacked the charm to win over even the most diehard spruce beer aficionado.

Someday, if we move back to the land of pine trees, I will try this again – and if I make a good batch, I’ll share the recipe here. In the meantime, I’ll just leave you with my recipe for homemade ginger beer.

Ginger beer (8 cups)

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1.5 lbs ginger, unpeeled, chopped coarsely
  • ½ cup brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 4 limes, unpeeled and coarsely chopped

Directions

  • Toss everything in a blender, and blend at highest speed for 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Strain through cheese cloth – and make sure you squeeze all the gingery goodness out of the pulp.
  • You’ll note that I don’t ferment my ginger beer, so technically, it’s not beer. If you want a little fizz, you can leave the ginger beer out for a few hours. Depending on how sweet the ginger beer is, the temperature, and how much yeast was hanging out on your ginger to begin with, you may get some small bubbles. If you want something more like a commercial soft drink, you’ll need to approach this differently than I do.

Dark ‘n Stormy

  • Pour about 3 ounces of ginger beer over ice.
  • Add 1 ounce of dark spiced rum.
  • Squeeze the juice of ¼ lime over top, and drop the lime wedge in.
Fun facts
2L Coca Cola 2L of our ginger beer
Carbon footprint 500 g 350 g*
Sugar 240 g 100 g
Plastic waste 1 bottle 0 bottles
Gingery goodness (on scale of 0 to 10) 0 10

* Used published value for brown sugar, and calculated results from Food Carbon Emissions Calculator for other ingredients (using conservative assumptions and reasonable substitutes).

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.

Adding a little zest to the holidays

Now that the Mayan calendar’s 14th Baktun has started with no hitches, it seems that there’ll be a 2013 after all – and the really good news (assuming the Values Institute at DGWB is better at predicting things than doomsday sites) is that food waste consciousness will be the top 2013 trend (with “meatless mainstreaming” coming in at number 4). Beth Hoffman, in an article she wrote for Forbes, seems to concur, listing food waste, humane animal treatment and food labelling as three issues of great importance that have finally made it into mainstream American consciousness.

It’s about time.

So, now that we’re all on the cusp of heightened food waste consciousness, I expect a few people will want to be making New Year’s resolutions to waste less, and if you’re looking for ways to do that, this article on CNN.com is a good place to start.

One food that the CNN article doesn’t mention, is citrus peels. Peels almost inevitably get wasted, which is a shame, because a little zest can add a great accent to sweet and savoury dishes, mulled beverages, teas, chutneys, pickles, cocktails and more. So why do so many peels end up in the bin? Simple: people rarely have cause to use citrus peel on the same day that they use the fruit … and on days that they do use zest, they often end up wasting the fruit.

It’s about timing.

In 2012, we decided to do something about that in our home, and started freezing peels whenever we ate citrus fruits. That provided us with a handy supply of zest throughout the year, with a big surplus at year end – perfect for making holiday candy.

We made our candied peels with some brandy, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. The peels last for several months, and are versatile. They can be used in baking or as garnish, eaten straight or dipped in chocolate – and make a nice seasonal gift during the holidays.

Candied citrus peels

The extra bonus was the simple syrup infused with spice and citrus that was a byproduct of the process. It came in handy when we opened a bottle of red wine that was not as tasty as we’d hoped. We heated up the wine, and added one tablespoon of brandy along with two tablespoons of our new instant Glühwein syrup (patent pending) per serving – and, just like that, bad wine was transformed into very Christmasy mulled wine. I’m guessing the syrup will also be good for making spiced tea and cider.

Candied peel (8 cups)

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of citrus peels, sliced
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 cups sugar
  • ½ cup brandy
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 slices star anise

 Directions

  • Thaw peels (if needed) and slice into various shapes. We used a combination of thawed orange, blood orange, lemon and lime peels, as well as the fresh peels of a red pummelo and an oroblanco grapefruit Bonnie Lee had just used in a savoury fruit stew. The fresh peels were very thick with pith, and ended up having a texture similar to gummy bears, with great grapefruit notes.
  • Submerge peels in water, and bring to a boil. Drain. Repeat. Repeat again. This removes some of the bitterness from the pith.
  • Mix sugar and water. Boil for 10 minutes or so, until the syrup reached the thread stage (i.e., until syrup dripped from a spoon into cold water forms thin threads).
  • Add in the brandy, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and peels, and simmer until the pith is translucent. This took about 2 hours for our batch.
  • Let peels dry on wire rack until they are no longer sticky (this can take up to a day).
  • Roll peels in sugar, if desired.
Fruit stew

The fruit stew that sparked the candy making.

Thawed peels

Thawed peels

Peels being candied

Peels being candied

Rolling peels in sugar

Rolling peels in sugar

Instant Glühwein

Instant Glühwein (patent pending)

Weekend food waste roundup – 16 December 2012

Food waste in the news

16 December 2012

Household Food Waste: Opportunities for Companies to Provide Solutions | Reports | BSR – An overview of solutions companies can pursue to help consumers reduce household food waste.

Food waste needs government lead | FOODmanufacture.co.uk  – Government and big business needs to show they have “broken the back” of food waste recycling before foisting it on householders.

CleanWorld opening second biodigester system to turn food waste into natural gas, electricity – Sacramento Business Journal – Organic waste recycling center will turn Sacramento food waste into natural gas, electricity and soil amendment products.

Universities join effort to reduce food waste, turn scraps into compost – Cronkite News –  Committing to the Food Recovery Challenge organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona’s three public universities have pledged to reduce food waste on their campuses by a minimum of 5 percent over the next year.

And a useful resource

StillTasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide – Save Money, Eat Better, Help The Environment

Thanksgiving leftover roundup

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I’m happy to report that the only waste that resulted from our feast was a baked wonton stuffed with vegetables – one that I would have eaten had it not turned into a soggy, slimy, scary mess. (It’s probably worth noting that I was properly chastised for letting it get to that state.)

I tend to cook just enough for one meal, so figuring out how to turn leftovers into new meals is a rare challenge – and kind of a fun one. I didn’t do anything wildly creative or exotic, but every meal managed to feel different from the one before, which was the goal. That being said, I was happy to see the last of the turkey and Brussels sprouts go.

The shots below are an abridged photographic record of our Thanksgiving leftovers. (People were spared such displays before the Internet came along.) Hopefully they will inspire someone out there to repurpose the leftovers from their next holiday feast rather than trash them.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner was step-5 turkey with bread stuffing, cranberry sauce made with the juice and zest of an orange and honey, pastry stuffed with a vegetable medley and a purée of roasted cauliflower & garlic, and mashed potatoes ‘n gravy (made out of the turkey giblets). It was a small turkey (8 lbs), but way more than the two of us could eat in a single sitting…

Turkey wonton soup

We stripped the meat off the turkey on the day after Thanksgiving, and made a broth, which ended up in a few soups. This turkey wonton soup was the best of them, and featured wontons stuffed with leftover veg and cauliflower purée. The wontons lacked a bit of structural integrity, but somehow it all worked.

Turkey hash

We used the meat in a few different ways. Some ended up in soups and sandwiches, and one thigh ended up in a baked turkey hash with a stuffing topping. We used up a lot of the veg in the hash as well, and flavored the white sauce with the last of the gravy.

Vegetable medley

This vegetable medley had a lot of great flavours and colours, and found it’s way into just about every meal for for several days. In addition to the hash and the soup, it was used in omelets and a frittata – and made for a good side dish all on its own.

Brussels sprouts with apple

We entered the holiday weekend with an embarrassment of Brussels sprouts, and had to get creative to get through them all, while still maintaining a little variety in our diet. Two dishes that stood out were some Brussels sprouts tacos and this dish made with Brussels sprouts, apple, shallot, garlic, apple cider vinegar, a bit of honey, salt and red pepper flakes.

So what did you do with your leftovers?

Marching comfort food down the food chain

My handy desktop dictionary defines comfort food as, “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”

I would add to that definition this: comfort foods, at least my comfort foods, are all warming. They are the equivalent of food hugs. And although not all my comfort foods are associated with childhood or even home cooking, they do share one trait: they are all tinged with nostalgia. Many of them are foods from Japan that I can no longer get easily, like udon – a bowl of which I always indulge in whenever I have a stopover in Tokyo, even if it’s in the middle of the night.

Of course the strongest nostalgia, and the warmest hugs, come from childhood foods – but often those are out of step with how we like to eat. Shepherds’ pie (a.k.a. pâté chinois in my family, and junk in Bonnie Lee’s) is one of those foods. Meat doesn’t cross our threshold very often – and when it does, it is for an indulgence, like our recent Thanksgiving meal – so Shepherd’s pie has been off the menu for a very long time. For day-to-day meals, we like to eat a little further down the food chain.

That’s why I was really happy to see this recipe for vegan shepherdess pie on Kellie’s Food to Glow (and endless source of food inspiration). I was on a trip when I saw it, and I knew it was something I’d be trying when I got home – and I did. It didn’t disappoint, either. The blend of umami and mashed potato, the textures, and the warmth led to a perfectly nostalgic moment, and the grown-up touches that my childhood palate might have missed (like the celery root in the mashed potato) added just enough of a twist to make it interesting.

Vegetarian shepherd's pie

So, I’m curious. What are your comfort foods? Have you adapted any of them to be more sustainable?

Weekend food waste roundup – 25 November 2012

The Food Movement Takes a Beating – NYTimes.com – A look at how the food movement fared in the recent US elections.

Why Greek Yogurt Makers Want Whey To Go Away : The Salt : NPR – Wheying in on traditional Greek yogurt?

Meeting will explore food waste reduction | Burlington Free Press | burlingtonfreepress.com – Vermonters are preparing for a phased-in ban on dumping food wastes in landfills. Would be great to see this implemented across the country planet.

Porcine furnaces make many meals of food waste – Crookston, MN – Crookston Times – Crookston, MN – Every year, about 23,000 tons of food scraps are fed to 5,000 hogs in Anoka County.

Pig, beer & lanterns

Harmonise food safety regs for ‘huge difference’ to food waste – Does erring on the side of caution lead to unnecessary waste?

Tips for Reducing Food Waste | 3BL Media – An interview with Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland and wastedfood.com.

Food waste site sparks opposition – News – getsurrey – Residents see biogas as a necessary and ecologically useful method of waste disposal, but not in their neigbourhood…

Weekend food waste roundup – 11 November 2012

Some interesting ideas

11 November 2012

Portion-mania: problematic for waists and waste. But could McDonald’s be on to something? | Dana Gunders’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC – Is it possible that McDonald’s is doing something right?

Removing trays from dining halls cuts food waste – Khaleej Times – A simple strategy to reduce food waste.

Be a Hero! Help Stop Fresh Food Waste and Get a Green Wallet with the New Green Savings Hero Partner Program from the Green Refrigerator Machine by Ozonator – Yahoo! News – Ozone technology in the Green Refrigerator Machine extends the shelf life of perishable foods, gives families more time to eat their fresh foods.

A reminder for the holidays

Reducing Food Waste During the Holiday Season | Worldwatch Institute – A few things to keep in mind over the holidays, when we tend to waste even more than usual.

Food recovery initiatives

Hilton Hotels to Share Food Waste in Hungry Egypt | Green Prophet – Hilton Worldwide has launched a pilot program to distribute surplus food to community organizations that feed the poor in Egypt.

Students turn waste food into meals – Wilmette Life – The Campus Kitchen Project is a nationwide non-profit with 33 participating colleges and high schools.

Composting initiatives

Composting option resolves some companies’ waste woes | The Tennessean | tennessean.com – Turning waste from breweries into compost.

City looks to expand composting program | The Columbia Daily Tribune – Columbia, Missouri

Bennington Banner: Vermont towns plan for new solid waste guidelines – Bennington Banner

222 million tons mentions

Food Apps that Help Reduce Waste During the Holidays, from Special Grocery Lists to Restaurant Deals and More – The Daily Squeeze