Soup’s On

Something tragic happened earlier this month. My oven stopped working.

It was the day after my birthday, and I had plans to make pizza. I wanted to top it with barbecue chicken, because not long ago someone (who may or may not have been my husband) opened a second jar of barbecue sauce when we already had an open one in the fridge…but there’s no need to get into that.

The oven was failing to heat up on multiple settings, so as I grieved, I improvised by using the outdoor grill as an oven.

The oven failure comes at a time when we are starting to feel the chill outdoors. That means it is time to start baking, right? I read a lot of summer seasonal recipes in which people reference the fact that “you may not want to turn on your oven!” because of the heat. Honestly, I think I use the oven almost equally in summer and winter! I don’t think I’ve consciously decided not to use my oven because of the weather…perhaps I’m not discouraged because we have central air conditioning and cool tile floors. But how quickly I forget! Now I’m flashing back to the apartment I lived in right out of college, the top floor of a converted house, and how I survived one Long Island summer without air conditioning. I’m pretty sure I avoided the oven then.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t necessarily gravitate to the oven in fall. The thing I start thinking about when it comes to fall is SOUP.

Of course, soup is a great way to incorporate miscellaneous vegetables. So later that week, I found a recipe that utilized CSA peppers and eggplant, along with leeks. With the help of the immersion blender, Matt was persuaded to eat and ENJOY something with eggplant! Pretty much any roasting vegetable could be incorporated in a soup like this.


Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious
Makes 4 servings

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), halved
~12 ounces red bell peppers
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
, chopped
~1 Cup/1 leek, halved lengthwise, dunked in cool water to remove grime, and thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 1/4 Cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 Tablespoons fresh basil
, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1.5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Parmesan cheese shavings

As you can see, Matt pulled out his tools and made a fair attempt to diagnose and potentially repair the oven. Now a week and a half later, the repairman came, only to say he has to order a part and come NEXT week to see if that fixes it.

As you can see, Matt pulled out his tools and made a fair attempt to diagnose and potentially repair the oven. Now a week and a half later, the repairman came, only to say he has to order a part and come NEXT week to see if that fixes it.

This is where an oven WOULD have come in handy–the original recipe called for roasting the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 450°F. I once again turned to the grill, cranked up high to try to keep it over 400.

Pierce eggplants all over with fork. Transfer, cut side down, to baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.
In the last 15 minutes of the eggplant’s cooking time, char bell peppers over a flame or in a broiler until blackened on all sides.

The blacker they get, the easier they are to peel.  These were a challenge.

The blacker they get, the easier they are to peel. These were a challenge.

Carefully add to a ziplock bag, sealed, and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Allow eggplant to cool slightly, then remove and discard peel. Chop eggplant into large pieces. Rinse pieces under running water. Drain well and set aside.
Take out peppers, and peel, seed and coarsely chop.
Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leek and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute.

Stir in eggplant, peppers, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.

Stir in basil and thyme.
Either cool slightly before using a blender to puree the soup in batches, or turn off heat and use an immersion blender to blend in the pot. Once blended, season with salt and pepper, and add butter and lemon juice (general side note: if you are making soup and upon tasting think it is missing something, try lemon juice). Warm over low heat if soup has cooled too much.

Transfer to bowls, and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese.

One Year

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my first blog post! Happy anniversary Make Haste Not Waste! Thank you to everyone who tunes in to hear/see what I’m up to.

Yesterday was also the day I heard a story on NPR about the National Resources Defense Council’s latest report on food waste.

I know I haven’t devoted much space yet to the issue of food waste on a national or global scale. It is a serious subject that involves the environment, economics, politics, social justice, and more. If you are tired of reading and want a quick overview in the form of video/infographics, watch this:

If you want more context, check out one of the NRDC’s extensive reports here, or their blog.

I made it my goal, starting last year, to reduce my contribution to the waste. While I haven’t yet started weighing my garbage and my compost (don’t count that out as a possibility! I’m waiting for Leanpath to make affordable home units), I can look at changes in my food spending.

I have been using a program for about 6 years now in which I try to track and categorize my spending. My husband used the same and we merged our tracking together when we married 3 years ago. Other factors are involved, of course, so I add the caveat here that this is not perfectly scientific:

Dates: January 1 – September 18  
  Grocery Expenditure Dining Expenditure
2011 X (Baseline) X (Baseline)
2012 X + 1% X + 10.3%
2013 X – 9% X – 1.9%

This drop occurred in the face of rising food prices: according to the USDA Economic Research Service, the Food Consumer Price Index increased 3.7% in 2011, 2.6% in 2012, and is predicted between 1.5 and 2.5% for 2013.

See? It pays to not waste!

Yesterday’s report addressed a specific issue of food labeling–the confusing “Best by” and “Sell by” dates that aren’t necessarily being used correctly, responsibly, or sensibly. Date labeling is almost completely unregulated, and “best by” or “use before” dates might simply indicate the manufacturer’s idea of peak freshness. The suggestion was that there be a clear, standardized system for consumers, more useful information, such as safe handling instructions, and transparency about methods for selecting dates.

I think about the progress that can be achieved in one year, in terms of increased awareness and policy change, and I’m not sure change is happening as quickly as it should. I applaud the NRDC for its efforts to break the problem down into parts. Imagine if the consumer started seeing a “Freeze by” date on all of their perishables–perhaps that would help shape a culture of planning and preserving. But these parts still need action and effort and advocacy. The UK did it: the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) started an initiative called Love Food Hate Waste (sound familiar?) and measured in 2011 a reduction in avoidable household food and drink waste of 18% since 2006/2007.

Change in the United States would probably require our politicians to take on these subjects–difficult, perhaps, when they are stuck fighting over the debt ceiling. Can things change? I sure hope so. And I know it is hugely challenging. But if you think about it, only in the past century or less has our food waste has become so rampant. Maybe it will take 100 years to get things under control!

Peanut Butter Pretzel Time

A bag of pretzels lasts a really long time in my house.

When I snack, which of course happens, I choose almost anything other than pretzels by themselves. They just aren’t tempting.

Until you add chocolate to them.

This bag of pretzels, which we had because of a giveaway or something, is destined to be crushed up and mixed with peanut butter and chocolate to make peanut butter truffle balls.

This recipe looked shockingly simple. No oven needed! I regret to inform you that I found it to be a pain in the you-know-what. Keep reading though–it might still interest you!

Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
From The Girl Who Ate Everything post and her source How Sweet It Is
Makes 20-30 Truffles

1 Cup natural peanut butter
3/4-1 Cup salted pretzels

1 Cup milk chocolate chips, or other chocolate to your liking (I do think milk chocolate works best with peanut butter)

Chop pretzels in a food processor.
Combine peanut butter and pretzels in a small bowl.
Chill in the freezer until very firm, at LEAST 30 minutes (I attempted rolling the mixture at one point and had to put the mix back).

Still not firm enough

Still not firm enough

Roll the peanut butter mixture into approximately 20 balls about 2 teaspoons each. You can try using a melon baller and your fingers or a small spoon, or two small spoons, and prepare to get messy. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and freeze until very firm, at least one hour more more.
These don't look like balls.

These don’t look like balls.

When truffles are hard enough, prepare chocolate by melting it in the microwave at 15-20 second intervals, stirring each time. Roll the frozen balls in melted chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.
I did use bittersweet chocolate for some of the truffles.

I did use bittersweet chocolate for some of the truffles.

That one truffle in the back looks nice.

That one truffle in the back looks nice.

Here’s the issue: I hate getting my hands messy. I strongly dislike stirring natural peanut butter, tahini, etc. (my friend Kristen will tell you about my struggles and groaning about tahini) because it often gets my hands message and greasy.

This time I stirred the peanut butter with the long handle part of a wooden spoon, which was an improvement of my past experiences, when I used a shorter spatula, and the stuff got all over the handle somehow.
As for the step of rolling the peanut butter mixture into balls? There was no staying clean then. And coating them in chocolate? The melted chocolate is warm! So guess what, it melted the peanut butter! It was a joke. I wish I had gloves.

Once the process was complete I determined that it is not worth it to make fancy little balls, for me at least. Sure, I have raved about other people’s homemade truffles and how cute they are in their little one- to two-bite portions. But in this case, it would be SO MUCH EASIER to make bars!

Step 1. Melt enough milk chocolate to spread on the bottom of a small square baking pan. Put in freezer until hardened.
Step 2. Spread peanut butter on top of the chocolate layer. Top with pretzels broken into smaller pieces. Put in freezer until hardened.
Step 3. Melt enough milk chocolate to spread on top of the peanut butter pretzel layer. Put in freezer until hardened. Cut into small bars. Refrigerate when not serving.

What do these bars remind me of? Take 5 candy bars!! I remember when the Take 5 came out (Wikipedia tells me it was 2004, when I was just starting the period of life when I made the vast majority of my own food and grocery purchasing decisions), and I thought they were made especially for me. This is coming from someone whose main weaknesses are ice cream and cookies, but who doesn’t dive into just any candy. Somehow, I even have the willpower to forgo the tin of chocolate kisses in the hallway at work, where I pass multiple times. The two mass-produced candies that I love are peanut butter M&Ms, and Take 5 candy bars. Those I would have a much much harder time passing up.

Feel free to take notes. It is my birthday today after all 🙂

Look how my lovely formica countertop hides the peanut butter spills!

Look how my lovely formica countertop hides the peanut butter spills!

The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
Add basil and pulse.
Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.

While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.

Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.

and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

I can still taste summer!

The Cucumber Conundrum

I am learning how different two years can be for vegetable crops!

I was wrong about getting lots of radishes and turnips. The zucchini hasn’t buried me. And my tomato crops, while not barren, haven’t produced so much that I have many to give away. As promised, here is the “after” picture.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

And before.

On the other hand, there has been SO MUCH cucumber from the farm share. It’s a tough one to keep fresh and interesting. Cucumber is eaten almost exclusively cold; you can’t generally preserve it by, say, drying it out (Googling to check…oh wait of course you can), and freezing it messes with the texture, right? The most common thing to do is make pickles. And I don’t love pickles! (Another problem that reduced my pickling motivation: I have managed to kill two dill plants before I had a chance to use them. Are they a tricky plant?)

So far, I have made a warm cucumber soup and some tomato cucumber salads. This week, I branched out and made cucumber sorbet!

Simple Mojito Cucumber Sorbet


3.4 – 1 Cup sugar
1 ½ cups mint leaves
2-3 medium cucumbers
, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
¼ Cup lime juice
2 oz. rum
, optional


Naked cucumber

Naked cucumber

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Boil 1 minute, or until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add mint leaves. Cover, and cool.

Riley wants to know what I'm up to.

Riley wants to know what I’m up to.

Transfer mint syrup to blender or food processor, and process until mint leaves are finely chopped.
Add cucumber chunks, and blend until very smooth.
Chill in refrigerator until cold. Remove from fridge and stir lime juice and rum (if using).
Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
Just getting started

Just getting started

I think we are there!

I think we are there!

Transfer to container and freeze.

Note: Numerous variations on the theme of cucumber sorbet/ice cream can be found online. Many steep the mint leaves instead of blending them in, like this does. Most also strain out the solids from the cucumber as well. I can see the benefit of a smoother texture. However, I think the chewiness of this recipe made it feel especially icy-cold and refreshing.

This was served in place of a pre-dinner cocktail on a warm night.