Posts by Cara

How to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

How to Green Your Shopping Routine | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Thanks for your thoughtful comments! This giveaway is now closed. -Cara, 5/6/16

Waste in the kitchen is a big topic these days, a fact that’s reflected in certain trends I’ve been seeing. Like: Perfect vegetables are out, restaurant pop-ups repurposing food that would have gone to waste are in. Ubiquitous plastic baggies and wrap are out; beeswax-coated cloth to hold cheeses, halved grapefruits, and bread loaves are in. Throwing out your food scraps: out; saving them for stock or compost: in.

Depending on your mindset, some of those of-the-moment ways of staying green in the kitchen might sound so onerous that your inner voice is screaming “compost?!?!” in disbelief. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few small changes. For example, while I’ll never give up paper towels for messy tasks, like wiping out the oily wok in between batches of fried rice, I make the effort to grab clean kitchen towels for most other undertakings, from blotting tofu to wiping down shelves.

I especially try to make these kinds of little changes when I go grocery shopping. The tweaks I make while stocking the pantry and running out for milk are tweaks that don’t inconvenience me at all but do help cut down on some of the less sustainable parts of being a consumer these days.

In a monthlong celebration of Earth Day, Whole Foods Market has started a conversation about just these types of changes, and I’m happy to have the chance today to share those parts of my routine that aim to keep things green.

Read all the way to the bottom for the chance to win a $100 gift card to Whole Foods.

How to Green Your Shopping Routine | Big Girls Small Kitchen

How to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

  1. Go grocery shopping. With so many options for ordering groceries online, making the effort to shop in person most of the time ensures that you have the ability to make real choices for yourself about packaging and ingredients. In person, you can also deviate from a set meal plan if organic strawberries are on sale or if the broccoli turns out to look subpar and therefore likely to go to waste. You feel more connected, I think, to the products you buy when you pick them out yourself.
  2. Tote Totes. Re-usable bags prevent you from stowing stuff in one-time-use bags! I should admit here that I just cleaned out my tote collection. There were dozens. Even with a more edited selection, I find I always have the right bag for the job. That’s the second part of this tip. While I wouldn’t advise amassing quite as many as I used to own, don’t be overly minimalist here. If you like carrying groceries home in a few smaller bags, stock those. If you have transportation and want enormous canvas sacks that can hold your whole grocery load, treat yourself to a few of those. If you buy a lot of pies, then find a tote with a wide base. I’ve often found that a big backpack can be an essential part of grocery shopping, and of course tons of city dwellers swear by their fold-up shopping carts.
  3. Don’t Bag Your Produce. There’s no requirement to use those plastic baggies around the produce department, so I tend to pile my veggies unprotected in my shopping cart and then my tote bags. (I make exception for teeny tiny veggies, like Thai chilies, which might get lost without a bag, though you could invest in some light drawstring pouches if you’re serious about being plastic free). I wash all veggies before I eat them, so I don’t really worry about them getting dirty. I do keep raw meat in another part of the cart, though. Occasionally, my heads of lettuce have left puddles on the cashier’s belt, but no one ever seems to mind.
  4. TYOC (Tare Your Own Containers). Take bulk buying one step further by bringing along your own bags or jars. Check in with a sales associate to be sure this is okay, then measure and mark the weight of the empty containers before you fill them with oats and seeds. That way, you’ll only pay for the contents of your jar, not the jar itself.
  5. Read Labels – Seriously. The only real way to find out if products comply with your personal green ethos is to read labels carefully. This is as true for packaged foods as it is for produce. When the USDA has certified a fruit, grain, or vegetable as organic, for example, it means that toxic and persistent pesticides haven’t been used during growing; you’ll be spared pesticide intake, as will the land and water used to grow the food. If you’re not sure what “natural” or “local” really mean, read up and ask until you understand.
  6. Find Second Life for Scraps. First, make the most of all the foods you pay for by using them while they’re fresh. Then, see what you can do to salvage ends, stems, and leaves that would otherwise go to waste. Some ideas: put a squeezed lemon half in the dishwasher for extra freshness. Freeze extra bits of organic veggies for eventual use in stock. Make endless batches of green sauce and pesto with herbs, radish or turnip or beet greens, and even excess kale. Experiment with odds and ends in any way you dream up!
  7. Look for Deals. This one is a little roundabout. But by saving your own money when you can, you’ll be able to spend on the right products when you’d like to. In particular, look for discounts when fruit and veggies are in season and therefore abundant. I’ve been using the Whole Foods Market app, which offers really relevant coupons – recently, there was one that included a $5 savings on any $20 worth of produce!

how TO WIN a whole foods gift cardHow to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

Leave a comment below to share the ways you stay green in the kitchen. (Browse here and here for some starter ideas.) I’ll randomly select a winner next Friday, May 6, so please be available at the email address you input.

This post was sponsored by Whole Foods Market. All opinions, as usual, are my own. Follow along in the Earth Month conversation at #1greenthing. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!

Shortcut Red Pepper Salsa

Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

I remember the day I discovered the best restaurant salsa. My sister and I begged our waitress for the method, and, to my surprise, she shared the basic recipe with us. All you do, she said, is roast tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers at a very high temperature until they’re charred. Then, you blend them. The oil the vegetables roasted in emulsifies with the juices when you blend. The char translates into earthy depth of flavor.

Even though I’m hardly an expert Mexican cook, I’ve read so many Mexican recipes that I know how essential the comal, essentially a dry heatproof surface, is to the cuisine. It’s on this platform where cooks toast peppers, aromatics, nuts, and other ingredients to give their ingredients char, which translates into fiery flavor.

But what if you could achieve that flavor without a comal, without so much as a broiler? You can, and it’s here. You just open a jar of roasted red peppers. (I’m the first to admit that this is a shortcut, not exactly the same, and yet if you create a path to homemade salsa that’s this easy, then you don’t have to buy jarred stuff, which is too salty and much too tangy for my taste. So…) With that shortcut up my sleeve, I created a jar of salsa that’s rich and sweet and very easy to make whenever.

Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small KitchenRoasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

With a good homemade salsa, two iconic snacks get an upgrade: chips and salsa and nachos. And since I promised you some posts about my obsession with the USA’s snacking habit, here are some thoughts on what it means when you can take a snack previously classified as junk and turn it into something so nourishing that it good enough to eat for lunch.

This is definitely the case with nachos. Subtract the fake cheese from the movie-theater version. Instead, top good-quality chips with fresh, vegetable-rich salsa, a few spoonfuls of refried beans, not a crazy amount of shredded cheddar, and scoops of yogurt. This plate of nachos is sustaining–and still completely delicious. For many snackers and snack producers, it’s those small changes in snacks that are helping to alter their status in our lives from throwaway indulgence to real food.

Liza Braude-Glidden, a co-founder of Beanfields, which makes chips made out of beans and rice, explains:

“If you’re a person who likes snacks, it’s only a tiny step to buy Beanfields instead of your regular snack. You don’t have to change your whole life. If you put that in your child’s lunch, they’ll have less fat, more protein, more fiber. You know there’s research that shows that beans create that feeling of satisfaction, ‘I’ve eaten something that will fuel me,’ you think. ‘This is something sustaining that will get me on with my day.'”

Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

You might interpret this trend towards stacking snacks with more sustaining ingredients as a sign that your snacking obsession isn’t a bad habit you need to kick. Or, you might do as I did and turn that homemade salsa into a snack-inspired lunch. Roasted Red Pepper Salsa | Big Girls Small Kitchen

What do you think? Do you prefer your snacks to have nutritional value, or do you prefer to associate snacking with indulgence and junk?

Toasted Coconut-Pistachio Macaroons

Toasted Coconut-Pistachio Macacoons

I set out to make good macaroons from scratch, with hopes of bringing something top-notch to this year’s family seder. About 30 seconds later, I realized that I already knew a macaroon secret that would make 2016’s cookies awesome. Fast forward another 1800 seconds and these pistachio and coconut macaroons were in the oven. They’re a true competitor for the delicious canned macaroons I usually gobble on Passover.

Toasted Coconut & Pistachio Macaroons

Here’s the trick. After you combine nuts with egg whites and sugar, you sauté the batter in a heavy pan over low heat. The sugars caramelize and the mixture grows sticky. Only after this stovetop cooking session do you form the batter into spheres and bake as for regular cookies. The cooking not only changes the taste. It does something wondrous to the texture. The cookies that come out of the oven are crackly on the inside and dense on the inside. They’re rich in a way that belies the short, egg white-centric ingredient list. All that from one simple, extra step.

I learned this secret years ago from an Italian cookie called brutti ma buoni, which I tried the BEST EVER version of – on a tip from a BGSK reader – at a restaurant in Clinton Hill called Locanda Vini e Olii (if you live in NYC, please go; when you do, order the “guitar strings” con le sarde and save room for the cookies). If you ever see a recipe for brutti where you don’t first cook the batter, don’t make it: you’ll be replacing a heavenly texture with that light, brittle, forgettable crisp of whipped-up egg whites.

I remembered the steps for making the cookies as laborious. That might have been because I tested and retested the cookies in the smallest kitchen I’ve ever cooked in, the one with the teensy refrigerator and half-size oven. The one that gave this blog its name. But this time the cookies came together quickly around toasted flakes of coconut and crunchy pistachios, chopped finely. Really, no big deal!

Toasted Coconut Pistachio Macaroons

Bring them to Passover seders. Or eat them all yourself.

Fennel, Cherry Tomato & Chicken Salad with Toasted Pistachios

Fennel, Cherry Tomato & Chicken Salad with Toasted Pistachios

I never thought I’d shout about one of those look-what-I-made-from-the-random-stuff-in-the-fridge salads today, or tell you that it belongs on your festive Easter table or in the spread of a baby shower brunch you might be hosting. But this one turned out so well, especially when I recast the crunchy side dish as a main, with the addition of shredded chicken. And so I thought it might be useful to tell you more about what happens when you combine paper-thin fennel with crunchy lettuce, cherry tomatoes, a spicy garlic vinaigrette, and toasted pistachios, in case you’re looking for a healthful but substantial dish that’s easy to make ahead and totally fine to serve at room temperature.

Here’s how the combination of ingredients happened.

After being out all day, we got back to our neighborhood really tired and hungry. I finally worked up the energy to cook dinner, but I used every hands-off cooking tip I could think of. I plopped a filet of Arctic char into a 300°F oven with olive oil, salt, and lemon wedges (you can cook salmon or char this way without worrying about over-cooking). I smashed garlic cloves and didn’t chop them. I grated carrots and sweet potatoes so I didn’t have to dice them. Those veggies went into my Instant Pot with rice, onions, broth, and rosemary to emerge as no-stirring-necessary pressure-cooker risotto in minutes.

The Crispiest Crunchiest Recipes on BGSK

Pita Croutons

Sometimes, you just want crunch! Smooth and silky have their place in cake, mousse, and soup. For when you want to bite into breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert and feel that toothsome SNAP! between your teeth, here are the dishes for you. (I wrote more about crunchies here, if you’re as addicted as I am.)

Fusilli1. Fusilli with Squash, Chard, Walnuts, and Pangritata. Pasta with vegetables is such a go-to, and I’m always looking for variations. This wintry delight, with sweet squash and fresh greens, gets perked up with pangritata–fried breadcrumbs also known as “poor man’s Parmesan.”

2. Cheesy Roasted Broccoli with BreadcrumbsRoasted broccoli already has two excellent textures: crisp, nearly burnt florets and soft sweet interiors, but melted cheese and brittle breadcrumbs give the dish an even more attractive character.

Crunchy Desserts 3. Peanut Butter Crispy Bars. Don’t restrict crispy bars to the official marshmallow version. A combination of peanut butter and corn syrup replaces the melted ‘mallows, while chocolate swirls on top complete the picture.

4. Green Tea Chocolate Bark. Chocolate bark has been a go-to since I was “cooking” in my dorm room microwave. But this version is sophisticated: matcha powder turns white chocolate green, and toasted walnuts pair with puffed brown rice cereal for ultimate crunch.

Banana Lassi

Banana Lassi

This is not meant to sound sad–if it does, I’m sorry–but sometimes when you’ve committed to cooking at home, to not spending all your money on take-out and restaurants, to eating leftovers and using up the last of that millet you bought too optimistically long ago, sometimes there’s not quite enough to fill out a plate.

What I mean to say is that if there’s a smidgeon of fried rice from yesterday, I’ll eat it for lunch, even if it’s not quite enough to be all of lunch. Otherwise, where would my beloved fried rice go? Not the trash!

So, some noontimes find me acting like a scavenger, scanning the fridge for something to make a half meal into a whole meal. A new trick for when I need to supplement skimpy portions is to pair a small portion with a big glass of banana lassi.
Banana LassiBanana Lassi

You may have made, or drunk, a mango lassi, perhaps at an Indian restaurant. Those are delicious drinks–earthy and sweet and thick (here’s a batido de mango, sort of a South American version). A banana lassi is more pedestrian, more everyday. It’s simple enough to eat with almost any cuisine but tasty enough that you won’t feel sad that your lunch is well, sad. Or it was, before you made the lassi.

What strikes me every time I blend one of these up (the whole process takes about a minute and a half) is how totally different it tastes from any other kind of banana-based smoothie or milkshake–and I’ve drunk a lot of banana shakes in my life. The yogurt contributes the most delightful tang, which sets off the caramelized notes of a ripe banana. A sprinkle of ground cardamom makes this otherworldly.

Banana Lassi

You’ll want to tweak my recipe according to the ripeness of your banana (and whether you froze it), the tanginess and thickness of your yogurt, and of course your preferences.