It's always a little hard to say goodbye to our carved pumpkins. A couple of years ago we left them as "nightlights" in the boys' bedroom until they went off and then threw them away. This morning, however, our friendly pumpkins will be kissed goodbye and diced up for dinner, with good reason: pumpkins are a super source of nutrition. It's cold and flu season, and because pumpkins have their fair share of vitamin C, they help our bodies fight infection.
Sharing vegetables with kids is a marvelous way to support their nutritive needs, and the beta carotene in pumpkins will help their eyesight. They are a versatile vegetable and if hitting #halfyourplate is your goal, this is a wonderful vegetable to get you there. Preparing pumpkin ahead of time makes it a quick meal starter. Toss frozen pumpkin chunks into soup, casseroles, and stir fries. Slice fresh pumpkin thinly to make skillet chips. Add pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes, turnip, or rutabaga. Make pumpkin themed muffins and loaves, or hide it in gingerbread cake if your people aren't a fan.
Don't forget canned pumpkin. It's just as good for you, though not quite as versatile. You can find it in the baking aisle because pumpkin pie is a seasonal favourite. Before you buy it, however, check the ingredients label. It should read "100% pure pumpkin", or something along those lines. They may tell you what kind of pumpkin is in the can, and that's fine. But many pie fillings come pre-sweetened or spiced, and you want to avoid those ones. Controlling your added ingredients is an important consideration for health when cooking, baking, and eating.
You can do a lot with a whole pumpkin. A very common way to deal with them is to place them in the oven and roast them, as I've detailed here. I also discussed dicing them and freezing them raw- that is the future of these pumpkins. In fact, I'd made dinner with pumpkin processed this way about a year ago, and that's what we're eating for dinner tonight, pictured here:
It's a good thing pumpkin is so flexible, because in addition to our carved baby pumpkins, we have a big one we didn't get to. My freezer will be full...and that means I have to start baking. I think I foresee a month of pumpkin-themed meals coming up! Perhaps a pumpkin-spice cookbook? Maybe a private Facebook group with new recipes and challenges each week. Do you have any ideas for me? Drop me a line!
In the meantime, my #testkitchen today will be a pumpkin-spice steamed milk. My lucky newsletter subscribers will be the first to receive this delicious gem. Want in on that? Just fill in your details and the rest will follow.
All the best, friends. Welcome to November!
Leftovers get a bad reputation. I don't know if it's because so many people just put out the same food as the night before and get bored, or because they get left in the fridge and forgotten about until they go bad, but let me encourage you to reclaim your leftovers. Add a little flair to your leftovers to help your food budget flow a little more smoothly.
This morning I made my first ever food video (I promise, I'll get better!) after trying to decide what to do with our leftover pizza ingredients from dinner last night.
As you can (sort of) see, there's not a lot left. A little pizza sauce, a few slices of meat, a few chopped peppers and onions. And no mozzarella. My usual go-to meal when I only have a little bit of this and that left is soup, so that was an option. I could always cut up another pepper, add a can of tomato sauce with loads of garlic and oregano, and have a reasonable facsimile of pizza in soup form. I also considered loaded pizza baked or roasted potatoes, and a casserole of sorts was taking shape in my mind. In the end, though, I decided to send my oldest to school with a pizza grilled cheese sandwich, which is what you see in my video. I made sure to cool it to send it to school with a freezer pack, so maybe not quite as tasty as hot, but still a delicious lunch. I'll probably eat one for lunch too, actually.
When you've got a pile of leftovers, consider how you can change them up to make something else. Dinner tonight is again leftover-based. A month ago or so I cooked a pork loin, sliced the leftovers, and froze them in meal sized portions- these are my meal starters. To a baggie of pork loin slices I am adding leftover brown rice from dinner a couple of nights ago and creating a yellow pepper, spinach, and yellow curry cream sauce. It's going to be delicious! And quick. I like quick. Quicker than sitting in the drive-through window and ordering dinner, then driving home to eat it. Definitely tastier and better for you, too. I will have dinner on the table tonight in about 15 minutes, because the rice and pork are already cooked.
Varying your foods exposes your family to different flavours in a nutritious way. You've probably heard "Variety is the Spice of Life", and it's true even when related specifically to food. We need a variety of foods in our diets to achieve the most nutrition naturally, and many spices have their own specific health-supporting properties. We definitely need as many supporting players as possible this time of year when flu and cold season starts up in full swing.
If you'd like to experiment with building your own spice blend for Garam Masala (what we in the west mostly call curry), I found this delicious-sounding recipe online this morning during my search for internet treasure. I have created in-house blends for many of my favourite spice mixtures, and sometime in the next while this will be something I experiment with. In the meantime, though, I have a brand new package of store-bought to use up, and we all enjoy eating it.
Happy Friday to you, friends! What's for dinner at your house tonight?
The biggest takeaway for me this week was to more thoughtfully consider what we do with what we have. As far as being a reducer, re-user, and recycler, I'm definitely in the know and I know our family does this better than we used to. However, there are still many, many things we can do as a family to improve our impact on the environment. Every day brings new opportunities to make changes to "how" we run our home.
It's easy to get complacent. It's disheartening, here in the west, when we know that no matter how much we give and alter our lifestyles and choices, there are other countries around the world that don't care and don't make any changes. But we are responsible for our choices, and if nothing else, we can make a difference locally. Buy those ugly vegetables. Reuse your plastic bags when you buy fruit and vegetables, and bring your own boxes or bags to the grocery store. Recycle what you can, and minimize what you can't. There are almost always better choices to make- none of us has this completely covered.
How about you? Have you had any epiphanies this week about what changes you can make to give your kitchen a waste-reducing makeover? #wastereductionweek2016
Here are a few final ideas for reducing kitchen waste, and here is a pretty decent article I found online this morning.
All the best this week, friends.
We go through a lot of apples in our house. It's the one fruit my second son will eat every day without a fight, and the rest of us enjoy them too. The photo above shows on the left what's left when I'm done with my apple. If I slice them for the kids or myself, I'll cut out the seed bits and the core. If I eat it whole, the core and stem are left behind. My husband, however, eats an apple down to the stem, as shown on the right.
He's challenged me this week to find a use for the bits of fruit we throw away. I can't imagine eating an apple until only the stem remains, but I agree there is some usable fruit left behind when I'm done with it. What I'm going to try to do is cook down these bits in a little water and strain it after. I'm hoping some version of fruit juice will be left behind- maybe not as strong as commercially prepared fruit juice, but enough flavour that I can freeze it and use it as a base for punch, fruit based desserts, marinade for pork and chicken, or apple cider.
I've got some ideas in mind for the daily grapefruit peel my husband leaves behind. The zest from it, anyway. I have a recipe idea percolating!
Today's challenge for you is to think about the remnants of fruit that is often thrown away. How can you squeeze just a little bit more out of it? It is deferred waste, but I think that is ok. Until garbage disposal units that create electricity are invented on a large enough scale to affordably keep in every household, we are going to have garbage. The challenge lies in focusing on the 3-R's- reduce, reuse, recycle. #wastereductionweek2016
Enjoy your day, friends!
Water is a valuable, non-renewable resource. Growing up as a child of the 70's and 80's, we seemed to have a very laissez-faire attitude about water in Alberta. It was here when we needed it, and would always be.
Now, however, our kids are growing up in a different world. There are routine water shortages and droughts. We watch the snow pack and rainfall levels, and we hear every year about devastating forest fires here in Alberta as well as around the world.
Today, we're going to talk about cooking water. Let me give you an example of how I changed what I do with it.
First, I now steam potatoes in a steamer pot rather than boiling them. They turn out just as cooked, and cook just as quickly, but use much less water. Another benefit to cooking potatoes in this way is giving them the opportunity to retain more of their nutrients. When vegetables are immersed in boiling water, some of their nutritional value gets absorbed by the water and then (usually) thrown away (more about that in a few minutes!). Another benefit of steaming gives you the opportunity to add passive flavour to your vegetables. Last night, for example, I added dried rosemary and sliced lemons to my steaming water. That gave my potatoes a subtle flavour boost that made them just that much tastier when it was time to eat them.
One of the ways I reuse cooking water is to strain out the solids- in this case, the rosemary and lemon- and refrigerate it overnight. Use it as a base for soup or stews the next day, or label it and freeze it flat to use it in the future. If that seems like too much work or too much planning, consider reheating it to a boil the next day and using it as the base for washing your not dishwasher-safe dishes. Add some soap and just enough cold water to make it possible to immerse your hands, and wash away.
Obviously my favourite way to re-use cooking water is to cook with it again. You retain all the nutrients that made their way into the water, and constantly buying soup stock isn't the healthiest or cheapest option. However, sometimes life gets hectic after dinner and you forget to put your cooking water in the fridge overnight- option #2 at least gives a second life to your water before it gets dumped.
Today, I challenge you to re-frame how you think about cooking water for every step of the journey. From how much you run the water before filling the pot, to how much water you cook with, to what you do with it after the fact. #wastereductionweek 2016
Enjoy your day, friends!
Today, let's talk about kitchen waste- specifically, food waste. There was a time when no-one recycled or composted. I remember throwing out empty cereal boxes, milk jugs, and carrot peelings because there was no other option for them. How exciting that we can make a difference now!
I was thinking about the definition of waste in Waste Reduction, and the concept of "deferred waste". When I cook most meals I start with a garlic and onion base. Into those savouries I usually add some celery, sweet peppers, tomatoes...it depends on what I'm cooking. Up until recently I would throw the bits I'd cut off into the garbage, or in the summer the compost bin. Now, however, unless it's moldy or goes off if exposed to air (like potatoes), I toss them into a freezer bag. When it's time to build a crock pot full of stock, a bag of vegetables gets added to the bones. Did you know you can actually cook with tomato leaves? At my next opportunity those will be added to my stock in small amounts. I think they'd impart a really good flavour.
My question for you to ponder today is the same one that I have been thinking about: what about deferred food waste? True, we are getting more nutrition out of our money by saving and using those bones and vegetable pieces, but does it really end up as less garbage in the land fill? Does it make a difference in the overall scheme of things? I don't know the answer, actually, and I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer to this question. What is your opinion?
October 17 to 23 2016 is Waste Reduction Week in Canada. As an individual and business owner, I'm proclaiming my dedication to Waste Reduction!
You may have noticed I feel very strongly about reducing waste in the kitchen, and the environmentalist in me is so excited to be able to marry my love of all things food and nutrition with practical ways we can all help to minimize our impact on the environment. It may seem like a daunting task, but if everyone took responsibility for their small part in this big world of ours, I believe we could really make a difference.
Each day in the coming week I will be posting articles and challenges related to Waste Reduction Week. I can't wait to share these challenges with you and I hope that you'll play along with me!
Looking forward to spending this week with you, friends!
See you tomorrow,
One year while in college I lived with 3 roommates. We shared a 2 bedroom suite and it was one of the best years of my life.
Every Sunday I'd make "Sunday Soup". Whoever was around could come and eat soup. Sometimes it was just me, sometimes it was my roommates, sometimes guests. It always started with a package of ramen noodles and enough eggs just dropped in to poach for however many people were eating it. Whatever leftovers I could scrounge from the fridge went in there, and sometimes a handful of vegetables. The specifics are long gone, because that was 22-23 years ago, but I remember loving my soup tradition. Plus it was cheap, a very important consideration for broke college students.
Nowadays I don't make soup every Sunday, though I'm thinking I may want to revisit the idea for the fall and winter. Last night we enjoyed Sunday Soup for dinner. It's the time of year when our people are starting to catch colds or just feel under the weather. It's warm outside, but there's still a bite in the air, especially when it's windy. And I worked hard all day and was too tired to really think. Like I said on my interview with Carrie Ann, soup is my all time favourite meal to cook, especially the last week of the month when we're on the end of our fridge food.
Growing up with a mom who didn't usually waste anything, soup is one of those things we ate often. I don't remember her ever using a recipe. I got my Sunday Soup idea from her, and over the years I've cooked periodically without following a recipe as well. I like to know I can stay a little more free-flowing with my ideas, something that's a challenge for me sometimes.
This soup started with some meal starters pulled from the freezer, flavour added to with fresh onions and carrots, and enhanced with basic herbs and spices. It was gentle on the taste buds and delicious.
And sadly I will never be able to recreate this particular soup because I used some of my meal starters- a bit of this and a bit of that from my freezer- some leftover gravy, a baggie of roasted pork drippings, some turkey stock I made last Thanksgiving, and the rest of the pork loin I cooked last winter. A handful of pasta left in the bottom of the box filled it out, and voila! Dinner was served.
We saved money cooking in rather than ordering in. We used up leftover bits of food from the pantry and freezer, and took advantage of meal starters I'd been keeping track of and organized. This meal was more nutritious then anything we could have brought home and was less expensive than ordering food for the family from any local establishment- and as an added bonus, we get to enjoy the leftover soup for lunch.
What's your go-to homemade meal when you're at the end of your energy? Do you have a favourite Sunday Dinner tradition?
Enjoy your week, friends.
Last night I introduced our kids to soup with dumplings.
When I was a child, my mom used to take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and somehow throw it all together and end up with a big pot full of yummy. To this day, homemade soup is one of my most favourite meals to create. It's nutritious, easy on the wallet, and perfect to use up the little bits and pieces left in your fridge and pantry at the end of the month.
It rained all day yesterday, a cold and driving rain, the wind was blustery, and altogether miserable. Not that I'm complaining...we need the rain. But we really didn't want to turn the furnace on again, and our house was so cold. This soup did a marvelous job of warming us up from the inside-out.
Dumplings are really easy to make, just a bit gooey while you're mixing up the dough. My second son thought he "sort of, kind of, maybe liked them", and my first son gobbled his up.
Dumplings are basically baking powder biscuits cooked in the soup. They get dropped in to boiling soup in small globs of dough, where they expand and grow as they cook. They're moist, because they get cooked in hot stock. They absorb some of the liquid, so you do want a good amount of soup to work with. You can flavour them with seasoning, spices, herbs, cheese, garlic...anything you want, really. It would be a great way to add interesting layers of flavour to your soup. For the boys though, I wanted to go with plain. Change is hard! Adding dough to the soup was change enough for those two.
The best thing about soup is that you can use up your leftovers- less food waste, and your budget goes further. And homemade soup is invariably more nutritious than store bought. You control the ingredients you add.
Leftover soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with fresh vegetables is what we're enjoying for dinner tonight. Tomorrow morning's #tuesdaysoupseries giveaway is this childhood turkey soup with dumplings recipe.
Do you have any special recipes you turn to when the weather is foul or when you need a throwback to comfort food from your childhood?
Enjoy your day, friends,
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I got to spend the majority of my afternoon yesterday in a parking lot, waiting. Waiting for the police, waiting for the other guy's company to come take pictures, waiting for the tow truck. As you can probably tell, my bumper got torn off the car when the big white truck tried to turn left to exit the parking lot...but my car was in the way.
It could have been worse, so much worse. No one was hurt, the kids and I weren't even in the parking lot at the time, we had a witness who stayed until I got everyone's information, and the other driver called me out after it happened (good thing I have The Meals Maven advertising on my car!). It looks pretty cut and dried. I'm hoping I get my car back by the time yoga starts up in September.
That being said, it threw a loop into my dinner plans. Hooray for leftovers! I was way to sun-stunned to even contemplate cooking when I got home, and it was easy to heat up a bowl of soup for everyone. The leftover soup was destined to become a freezer meal for a future need, but it served a present need instead.
So let's talk about why it's important to cook ahead and keep freezer meals. I'm not exactly a pessimist, but I am a realist. As Robbie Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (paraphrased). I love planning, and am not a big fan of surprises, but for all the planning I do, life happens, as it happens for everyone.
Without further ado, here are a few good reasons why it's a great idea to cook ahead and use your leftovers.
Here are a few pointers about stocking your freezer. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, or perhaps hard to start, but if I lived for 12 years without a deep freezer and still managed, so can you.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to get started on making the most of your resources, and enable you to eat more at home, eat less fast food, save more of your food budget, and organize your freezer in a way that suits your needs.
I've got a post coming up pretty soon on healthy lunch box ideas. With the kids heading back to school shortly, and the restrictions placed on what we can pack for them, I think it's a timely post- keep watching for it!
Enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer!
Until next time,