On any given day, I can search my refrigerator and find fruits and vegetables that, only a few days before, were vibrant and beautiful. What sad fate is in store for those items, that I have passed over and ignored? Often times, they sit, tucked away in the deepest corners of the produce compartment of my refrigerator until, one day, I acknowledge the awful truth. All good things must come to an end.
But, before I throw in the towel, I like to find a way to use the fruits and vegetables that have “gone south.” I am reminded of an excerpt from Jacques Pépin’s book, “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” entitled, ‘For the love of wilted vegetables’. Jacque is a kindred soul who, like me, hates to see anything go to waste.
Today’s example is a lime, a lemon, a jalapeño, and a wedge of onion, that have past their prime, but not past their worthiness.
I was going to make salmon today and I was pawing through the refrigerator, looking for a lemon, when I came across these sad little items. They inspired me. In fact, I tossed the idea of salmon to consider what sort of noble thing I could do with the slightly wrinkled and discolored fruit and onion.
A marinade! Yes, indeed!
The pieces came together in my head quickly. I will marinate some chicken and make chicken fajitas for dinner.
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 jalapeño, chopped
1/4 large white onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground dried onion
1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp chili powder
Three hours later, after allowing the chicken to thoroughly marinate, dinner was served.
What can you do with your vegetables and fruit after they have gone south?
I hesitate to say that this is a no-fail recipe but I can say that it’s never failed me. I first heard of roasting chicken in a paper bag many years ago when I didn’t have much money and I only had rudimentary cooking utensils, but that didn’t stop me from making an fantastic dinner. This is a perfect recipe for the young bachelor who wants to impress but can’t afford a dozen long stemmed roses!
I roasted a whole, small hen in a paper grocery bag with dried herbs, potatoes and carrots. The hen came out tender and juicy and perfectly cooked and the vegetables were full of flavor.
It’s important to note that you will need a large paper bag. Grocery store paper bags are perfectly suitable and they don’t add to the cost of the meal. Don’t forget to request paper bags when you go to the store to buy the chicken!
For this recipe, I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of a whole hen.
¼ cup Herbe de Provence (or an Italian herb mix)
½ tsp red chile flakes
½ tsp salt
1 tsp dried onion
½ tsp cracked black pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 head of broccoli (about ½ lb)
1 lb small potatoes
2 large carrots
2 ears of fresh corn on the cob
A few small fresh chiles
4 oz fresh mushrooms
½ onion peeled but not chopped or sliced
3 Tbs butter, melted
¼ cup fresh basil
½ tsp sea salt, crushed
¼ tsp cracked black pepper
For the roasting bag: One large paper grocery bag and a few tablespoons of cooking oil.
Add olive oil, herbs, chile flakes, dried onion, salt and pepper to a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Prepare the bag for roasting. Lay a large casserole dish on a work surface. A glass or metal pan can be used, as long as it is deep enough to collect juices that might run out of the bag when it is comes out of the oven.
Stand the paper bag in the dish and smear the entire bag with cooking oil. I like to pour a little oil onto a paper towel and scrub the bag with soaked paper towel. This doesn’t require much oil…just enough to wet the bag a little. Set aside.
Wash the vegetables and allow them to air dry for several minutes. Cut the corn into 3 to 4 inch pieces. Leave the rest of the vegetables whole.
In a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons melted butter, ¼ cup fresh, chopped basil, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper. Mix together, briefly. Add the potatoes, carrots and corn to the bowl and toss.
Add all of the vegetables to the paper bag, in no particular order. Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables. Clasp the top of the paper bag and roll together tightly to seal.
Place in a 350° oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how tender you like your vegetables.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow to cool on a table for a few minutes. Carefully cut a whole near the top of the bag to allow the steam to escape. Cut the remaining top portion of the bag away.
Remove the chicken and vegetables from the bag and move to a cutting board. Cut the broccoli and carrots into bite sized portions. Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter. Slice the chicken into serving slices and nestle the chicken in the vegetables.
Enjoy the aroma and celebrate with good friends and loved ones!
I bought a large bag of Gala apples about two weeks ago and promptly put them in the crisper drawer in my refrigerator. Every time I open the refrigerator I see them and I am reminded that I need to do something with them.
Today seems like the perfect day to use them. Even though they have been kept cool and they still feel crisp, they won’t last forever. On top of that, I want something to do at home, so that I am not tempted to join the frenzied mob who are in panic mode as they rush to the store to empty the shelves of toilet paper and sanitizer.
Toilet paper, really?! If I was preparing for an emergency quarantine, toilet paper might make my it on my list of “100 things I need” but it would be pretty far down on the list. People are weird. I should know…I’m people, too.
I don’t want to make light of the situation surrounding the virus that has recently been declared a pandemic event. It’s serious business. People want to stay healthy and invisible threats, like viruses, play on our fears.
So, with that in mind, I want something to keep me occupied in the safe, confines of my home. I also want to stretch my resources to their fullest potential, which means that I don’t want to waste anything. If I wind up being confined to my home for a while, I want to be prepared and I want to be frugal.
Today is the day I will use those apples and I will use every part of them. I will save the peels to make apple chips and I will save the cores to make apple syrup. I will use the stems…ok, I won’t be using the stems but I definitely could. I could glue the stems together to make little stick-figure people and animals. Maybe next time.
Apple Filling Ingredients:
2 lb apples
1 Tbs white flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
¼ tsp salt
Set oven to 350°
Peel apples and cut into ½” pieces.
Place apple pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle with the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Mix briefly with a spatula. Add the lemon juice and toss. Spread the apple mixture across the bottom of a 2 quart baking dish.
Add all of the topping ingredients, except the melted butter, to a bowl. Mix with a spatula.
Add the melted butter and mix until all of the dry ingredients have absorbed the butter. Spread the mixture over the apples.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. This allows the apple filling to congeal.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a glass of cold milk.
Apple Peel Chips
Apple peels from 7 or 8 apples
1 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl. Toss to coat the apple peels.
Spread the apple peels on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
Bake at 300° for about 15 minutes. Turn the peels over and continue backing for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow the peels to cool.
The syrup produced by this recipe is very close to the color, consistency and flavor of honey. I will definitely use it as a substitution for honey in some future recipes.
Apple cores from 7 to 8 apples
½ lemon, juice and peel
1 small star anise (or 1/8 tsp anise seed)
White sugar (amount needed is described in the directions)
Add apple cores, lemon juice and lemon peel to a small saucepan. Cover with water and simmer at low heat for 1 hour.
Strain the solids and reserve the liquid. Return the liquid to the saucepan and turn heat to medium. Reduce by one half.
Carefully pour the hot liquid into a heat resistant measuring cup. Take note of how much liquid you have. You will be adding twice that amount of sugar to the pan. Return the liquid to the saucepan and add then add the sugar. I wound up with 3/4 cups of liquid so I added 1 1/2 cups of sugar.
Simmer for about 5 minutes at medium heat while whisking. When the liquid begins to bubble and froth forms, turn the heat off and remove from the pan from the heat. Test the syrup with a spoon. If the syrup clings to the back of the spoon, the syrup is done. If the syrup seems too runny, return it to the heat for another minute or two. Be careful not to overheat, unless you want to make hard candy!
Remove syrup and allow to completely cool before placing it in a storage container. The syrup will continue to thicken as it cools. The syrup should last for a few weeks in a refrigerator.
My favorite sort of days evolve and flow in natural, unpredictable ways. I don’t always plan meals ahead of time, and even when I do, my instincts guide me when it actually comes time to cook.
1. Segmented Grapefruit
I saw some nice looking grapefruit at the store recently. Even though they weren’t bonafide Texas Ruby Red grapefruit, they were large and ripe and I thought they would make a nice addition to the next day’s breakfast.
I like grapefruit but I don’t like the white, bitter pith and I don’t like the membranes between the segments. I wasn’t a big fan of grapefruit until I discovered that I could cut away the parts that I didn’t like! I started by cutting the top and bottom off, just to the point where I could see the fruit beneath. Then I used a sharp kitchen knife to spiral cut the rind, deeply enough to get beneath the pith. Then I cut the segments, sliding the knife along the sides of the membrane, leaving nothing but pristine segments. This takes some practice but it’s definitely worth the effort.
2. Citrus Aromatic
I decided to use the grapefruit rinds to make a citrus aromatic on the stovetop. It’s an easy thing to do and it makes the entire house smell fantastic. I heated a pot of water and added some star anise, a cinnamon stick and a crushed nutmeg seed. Just as I was about to toss the grapefruit rinds into the pot I had an idea. I could use the rinds to make candied ginger and still use the top and bottom pieces of the grapefruit for the aromatic pot.
3. Candied Grapefruit Peels
Once the aromatic pot was simmering, I sliced the grapefruit rinds into thin strips. I boiled the rinds three times in water, to remove some of the bitterness and then I made a simple syrup, using 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. I brought the syrup to a boil while whisking.
I added the cut grapefruit rinds to the syrup and simmered them at low heat for about 20 minutes. Once the rinds turned translucent, I moved them to a wire rack to dry for about 4 hours. On a dry day, they might have dried in an hour but the humidity was high and they took most of the day to dry. After a few hours I dredged the pieces in sugar and then I returned them to the rack. An hour later, I tossed them in sugar again and let them finish drying on the wire rack.
I was left with 1 cup of grapefruit flavored simple syrup. Being the frugal sort of cook that I am, I devised a plan to use the syrup.
4. Sweet and Sour Chicken
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
2 lbs chicken thighs, skinned and deboned
1 cup cooking oil
For the sauce:
1 cup simple syrup (from the candied grapefruit)
1 cup ketchup
1 ½ Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp Hoisin sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
For the stir-fry:
1 Tbs cooking oil
½ tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
½ lb broccoli florets
3 green onions, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced diagonally
2 large, mild jalapeños, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
In a large bowl, combine the cornstarch and flour. Whisk to combine. Remove half of the flour mixture and set aside.
Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and debone. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Add the chicken to the bowl containing half of the cornstarch and flour. Toss to coat the chicken. Leave the chicken in the flour dredge for 10 minutes.
Prepare a wok by adding 1 cup of cooking oil and set the heat to high.
Add remaining flour to the chicken and toss to coat.
Add the chicken to the hot oil, a little at a time. Fry the chicken until crispy, golden brown.
Remove to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm.
Remove the oil from the wok and wipe the wok clean with a paper towel.
Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
Add 1 Tbs cooking oil and ½ tsp sesame oil to a hot wok. Add the garlic and ginger and simmer for a few seconds.
Add the vegetables and stir-fry until the vegetables are tender. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and keep warm.
Add the sauce to the wok at medium heat. Once the sauce begins to bubble, add the chicken and stir to coat.
Add the vegetables and stir to combine. Turn out to a large serving bowl.
Top with cilantro and serve in bowls with steamed jasmine rice.
I recently returned from a 3-day, mini vacation and while I was away, my thoughts turned to all of things in my refrigerator that would need to be used when I returned home. I wasn’t preoccupied with those thoughts but, being the frugal person that I am, I imagined what I could do with the food that would likely be on the verge of spoiling when I returned.
Sure enough, upon my return, I opened the refrigerator to inspect the various vegetables and other odds and ends. As I expected, the bell peppers were on their last legs. The celery and green onions were going limp. The red onion was holding on strong and the carrots were just fine, so no worries there. And then, I remembered the unopened package of beef that I had left in the meat drawer. I knew that it had been in the refrigerator for several days. The solution was obvious. A beef stir fry was the perfect remedy.
This was a meal made out of necessity and practicality but each of the components combined quite nicely and the quick stir fry allowed some items, that were past their prime, a chance to shine.
Ingredients for the
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbs thinly sliced ginger
2 Tbs canola oil
1 pound, thinly sliced beef
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 medium sized red onion
2 celery stalks
3 cups uncooked white rice
Ingredients for the
3 Tbs dark soy sauce
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs sambal (chili garlic sauce)
Ingredients for the
½ tsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs Hoisin sauce
1 Tbs honey
2 Tbs white vinegar
1 tsp hot sauce (your choice)
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs cornstarch
1 Tbs water
Remove some of the starch from the rice by rinsing and scrubbing the rice by hand in a colander. Put the rice in a large pot and cover with water. Allow the rice to soak for 30 minutes.
While the rice is soaking, marinate the beef and prepare a mise en place.
The beef that I used was a packaged roast that had already been thinly sliced. It was marketed to be used for carne asada but, since it was not seasoned, it was suitable for my purpose.
Slice the beef into ribbons and allow it to marinate for
about 30 minutes.
Peel, slice and chop the vegetables as you like. Reserve some chopped scallion tips for the
Preparing this mise en place took about 45 minutes. I wasn’t rushed because I knew that the rice would take about an hour, from start to finish.
Cook the rice according to the directions on the package. In this case, as I mentioned earlier, I soaked the rice for 30 minutes and then I cooked and steamed the rice for 20 minutes. I allowed the rice to steam for 10 additional minutes before fluffing with a fork.
I made the stir fry, while the rice finished steaming.
Add the cooking oil to a hot wok. Season the wok with ginger and garlic for one minute and then remove the ginger and garlic.
Introduce the vegetables, starting with the ones that will take the longest to cook. In this case, I started with the carrots, followed by the bell peppers, red onion, celery and scallions. Remove the vegetables to a bowl when they have softened but before they go limp.
Add a splash of oil to the wok and stir fry the beef. The beef will cook within a matter of a few minutes. Remove the beef to the bowl containing the cooked vegetables.
Add the sauce to the wok and stir until thickened. Add the beef and vegetables back to the wok
and stir to incorporate the sauce. Turn
out the stir fry to a serving dish and top with scallions.