Monday, March 28, 2011

The Soup Project: Meatless Monday's Caldo Verde or Portuguese Kale Soup

Ever since I discovered this inspiring blog, I've been pairing down my possessions, and last week when I was going through my cookbooks, instead of pairing down, I found myself perusing my all time favorites and looking for recipes. When I picked up The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash (1982, Alfred Knopf), it brought back memories of shopping at Pike Place Market, long before neighborhood markets started in Seattle.

On Wednesdays local farmers came to the market and I bought a lot of produce from Katherine Lewis of Lombrici's Organic Farm in the Puyallup Valley. One day when I asked Katherine how to cook kale and she had recommended The Victory Garden Cookbook. Even though Lombrici's no longer exists now, and Katherine has gone on to Dunbar Gardens in Skagit Valley where she weaves these amazing baskets, The Victory Garden Cookbook continues to inspire me today.

I wanted to make a soup with the kale from my garden, and the first recipe I found was Portuguese Kale Soup. Just a glance at the recipe told me the flavor depended on the pound of sausage, listed as the third ingredient. Garlic and tomatoes were the only other flavorings. And so much sausage made me picture grease floating on the surface chocking the vegetables and beans.

I checked a few other versions of this soup, and in The Ultimate Soup Cookbook (2006, Readers Digest Association, Inc) a Portuguese soup listed just 4 ounces of turkey sausage and 1 1/2 ounces pepperoni--a healthier version than the one from 1982. I checked out blogs next. This one called for two thick slices of chorizo sausage, and this one, though vegetarian looked so bland and boring, I knew we'd be pouring salsa in to spice it up.
I chose Field Roast sausage to substitute for the sausage and bring in more flavor. I've probably mentioned it before but Field Roast was started by Seattle chef David Lee. I met him years ago, and we talked about making seitan, the wheat meat from Japan and China. The company makes great burger patties, roasts and sausage. The meaty texture is intriguing and the sausage has great flavor but is on the salty side, so I didn't add salt to the soup. Also, I used the Apple-Sage variety, in case this is what you want to try. Look for it at natural food stores and food co-ops.

If I didn't use the Field Roast, my next choice would be to dry-fry mushrooms for a meaty texture and add the spices normally used in sausage making. Also if I had more garlic I would have added more, just because I love garlic and with this savory soup, more garlic would be perfect. I added dried thyme because that's what I have the most of in my pantry.

Here's the recipe:

Meatless Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale Soup)
(Serves 6 to 8)

4 to 8 ounces sliced Field Roast smoked apple sage sausage, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups diced red or yellow onions
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 carrot, sliced
1 or 2 potatoes, diced
1 small sweet potato or yam, diced (optional)
2 cups cooked garbanzo or kidney beans
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon thyme
4 cups water
28 ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
4 cups thinly sliced kale
Salt to taste

1. Saute the Field Roast sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil until both sides of the sausage are browned, remove from heat and set aside.

2. Heat a heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir and cook until onions are translucent. Add garlic, carrot, potatoes and sweet potato, if desired. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

3. Add beans, hot sauce, thyme, water and tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Stir in kale and simmer until soft. Add Field Roast sausage, stir, then add salt sparingly.

I'm not sure, but I think my Cooking Assistant was fooled by the Field Roast "sausage."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Healthy Food Choices for Life

Last fall when I checked to see if a local library carried my book, one of the librarians asked if I'd be interested in giving a talk. At the time I was planning a talk and slide show for this event in Snohomish, so I proposed a talk about healthy foods.

I've followed healthy whole food topics since I discovered whole-wheat bread as a teenager. That may sound funny to some people today, but Mom never bought whole-wheat bread when I was young. She said it was the kind of food she'd grown up eating during the Depression and it reminded her of being poor when she was young and maybe she was looking to escape her past, but when I first got my driver's license, I'd sneak off to this hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop health food store where I carefully look over oils, nut butters and I shamelessly spent my weekly allowance on carrot juice, heavy frut and nut muffins and raw milk. I'm not really obsessive about food like the organic-only-locally-procured-gluten-sugar-dairy-corn-and-soy-free crowd, but I've always felt at home in natural food stores (the mom and pop types) and I love farmers' markets even more. And most of the foods I eat today happen to be fresh and locally grown.

The event tomorrow evening at 7 pm at the Lynnwood Library features 10 of the healthiest foods to add to your diet. Of course I'll add a few Northwest farmer stories, and I decided to add a slide show since the one in Snohomish was so well-received.

Here are three foods I'll mention and a few of the slides that I'll bring to the show:

Apples have an amazing antioxidant content that inhibits cancer cells and helps lower cholesterol. According to this study, amount of phytochemicals varies among apple varieties with the bright red types containing more phytonutrients than green apples. Also apple peels contain many unique nutrients, so eating the whole apple is a healthier option than sipping fiber-free apple juice.

I snapped this photo at Bellewood Acres last fall at Whatcom County Farm day.

Carrots aren't just for your eyes like your mom may have told you in a lame attempt to lure you to try them as a child. With 87% water content, carrots still have the highest amount of carotene of all vegetables. Lutein, lycopene and alpha and beta--these powerful antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. At Carrot Museum website, I learned that most of the nutrients in carrots were just below the skin, yet another reason to leave the skin on and pass on those baby peeled carrots in big bags. These Purple Haze carrots made a perfect picture at Garden Treasures in Arlington.

Berries are also on the list because no self-respecting healthy food list would be complete without them. While people often mention blueberries when asked to name nutritious fruits, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, huckleberries and cranberries all contain unique compounds that compliment each other. One component in strawberries was found to be helpful in memory retention; raspberries contain bone-building vitamin K; and cranberries (blueberry relatives) contain components that prevent E-coli from clinging to the cells of the urinary tract. This colorful photo was snapped at the Pennington Farms booth at the Medford farmers' market in southern Oregon.

These are just a few tidbits to arouse your curiousity about the foods you eat, but the most fascinating thing I discovered while compiling this list of ten foods was that a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet enhance each other. Though one study in 2010 implied that eating fruits and vegetables won't protect people from getting cancer, another article about carrots and broccolis revealed these two vegetables act on different pathways to protect cells from free-radical cancer causing cells. And a berry study suggested that antioxidants in blueberries were enhanced by phytochemicals in raspberries, implying a diverse diet is as healthy for us as a diverse sustainable farm is for the earth.

My Cooking Assistant (and oldest basset Badger) yawn over my gushing enthusiasm for healthy fresh food. My Assistant isn't really lazy, he just prefers to get back to the real fun--food photos. Hope to see you at the event.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Soup Project: Masoor Dal

Turnips, leeks and beets sparkled in the sun at the market on Saturday. These winter root treasures could be great soup inspiration if I hadn't already seen these vegetables for so many weeks now. Even though there are so many at the market now, I'm over these root vegetables for the season, and can hardly face them anymore. I'm hungry for summer fare, and good local Northwest vegetables are still months away. What's a cook to do?

My thoughts turned to pantry options and favorite soups of the past. I wondered if there were any possibilities in my own recipe files? (Or the stacks of recipes I refer to as "files.") It didn't take long until I thought of the perfect recipe that I wanted to share.

Called Masoor Dal, this curried lentil soup recipe originally came from Silence Heart Nest, a restaurant in the U-District that I'd thought had folded, until I discovered this website recently listing their new address in Fremont.

I used to meet my friend Paula at Silence Heart Nest for lunch years ago when I taught vegetarian cooking classes at North Seattle Community College, Edmonds Community College and PCC Natural Markets. Most of the food on the menu at this restaurant was on the bland side for my taste, but they served this amazing dal soup that I ended up ordering every time Paula and I got together.

One day, I noticed Silence Heart Nest offered copies of the recipes and my favorite Masoor Dal with red lentils was the first recipe listed. I made this recipe over and over again, but now it's been years since I've made it. It wasn't hard to find because the original recipe is on bright lime green paper. And there it was, tucked into a stack of saved recipes.

The main ingredients are red lentils, onions and garlic. Red lentils cook so fast and the smooth texture is comfort food at its finest. I had plenty of onions on hand, but I'd finished using all the garlic that I'd saved from last fall, so I took out garlic powder from the pantry. This isn't really just any old garlic powder, but I bought both garlic and onion powder from JoanE at Rent's Due Ranch last season. They're different than commercial brands because they are dried at lower temperatures and have much better flavor. I decided to toss in some of the onion powder, too and I also added vegetables to the line-up--carrots, celery, rutabaga, potato and carrots. Okay I caved, and added root vegetables again but soup for dinner has to be the full-meal-deal at our house.

My Cooking Assistant makes no apologies for pointing out his favorite addition to this soup.

Here's my adapted version of this savory soup:

Masoor Dal
Mama Lil's are my first choice for peppers when pepper season is months away, and if you want to use fresh, make sure it's organic because peppers are on the top ten list of pesticide-contaminated vegetables. Another alternative, cayenne, works but doesn't have as much flavor as Mama Lil's.

3 medium onions, diced
2 tablespoons light sesame or canola oil
1 tablespoon butter or ghee (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon Mama Lil's peppers, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 carrot, sliced
1 rutabaga, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 red potato, diced
1 heaping cup red lentils
28-ounce can fire-roased diced tomatoes
4 to 5 cups water or stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
Ghee or canola oil
1 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and oil; cook and stir until onions soften. Add butter, peppers, curry powder, garlic powder, turmeric, carrot, rutabaga, celery, potato and red lentils. Stir until all ingredients are coated, then add tomatoes and water or soup stock. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 40 minutes, stirrring frequently. Add more water if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a skillet over medium heat while soup cooks, and saute the mustard and cumin seeds in ghee or canola oil. Blend in the seeds with cilantro (if desired) and a squeeze of lemon.

I hadn't finished making the garnish yet, and daylight was fading fast, so I thought the Port Madison spring cheese that I got at the market would pair perfectly in a photo with the soup. My assistant was overly eager to pose as soon as he saw the food and my camera. So he quickly got into position and I snapped what I thought was the perfect photo, but now that I see that the rascal was way more fascinated by the scent of this equisite goat cheese from Port Madison Farm. Who can blame him?

Dress up this soup in any way that suits you. Have fun and make it your way.

Friday, March 18, 2011

$100 a Week: Quinoa Fritters

I've become an "envelope stuffer." That's what my friend calls people who put cash in various envelopes and only spend what's in the envelope each week. It seems a basic enough concept, and having never lived with a food budget in my life, the prospect of keeping track of my food money seemed daunting so I adopted this envelope method of keeping track of food money.

The first week I spent nearly the entire wad I had at the farmers' market as usual, then I ran out of bread and there wasn't enough money in the envelope, because good bread is up to $5 a loaf these days.

With a food budget, meal planning is important. You've got to picture the week ahead in meals, and what your money can actually put on the table to make a budget fit. But planning meals in advance has never been one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes I just jot down ideas and hope I have enough imagination when it comes time to make it work.

Last Friday I was too busy or too lazy to look up recipes and when Thursday arrived, I drew a blank. I'd written "quinoa again," but that left a lot of room for getting creative with quinoa which is on the menu at our house a lot these days.

It's frequently on our menu because I got this Cost-Co-size bag of quinoa from a friend who had bought it to try on his cereal. He said, "I sprinkled it on my cereal and it was too hard to chew. How do people eat it?" I told him quinoa is cooked like rice in water, and he suddenly wasn't interested. Maybe he really wanted flax seeds, I don't know, but I wonder what would make somebody who claims he's a tightwad buy a big bag of quinoa when he'd never tasted it.

For people who have known about quinoa for years the idea of sprinkling it on dry cereal is funny, but at the same time I couldn't believe my luck. I love quinoa and an entire bag coming my way was too cool to pass up. Okay maybe I was a little sorry he didn't take the time to try cooking quinoa, but now my food budget money can go for other things.

Anyway, Thursday rolled around and as I looked for quinoa recipes to try, I found quinoa fritters in The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac. So that's what I made.

I have to say these fritters were so amazing, I'd make them again and again. Tom took two helpings last night and my Cooking Assistant and cohorts of course shared one. These fritters were so good, I had to share this budget friendly recipe.

Bocados de Quinoa
(Makes 12 fritters)
This Bolivian recipe is inspired by a similar recipe in The South American Table. We enjoyed these with black-eyed peas cooked in enchilada sauce from Gathering Together Farm and a basic coleslaw from my cookbook. I think these quinoa fritters would also be great with roasted sweet or hot chile's later in the season.

1/2 cup pecans
1 3/4 cup water
1 cup quinoa
1 cup corn (frozen)
4 chopped sundried tomatoes (from a jar)
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
Canola or peanut oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Salsa (use your favorite)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Toast pecans for 9 to 10 minutes. Chop into very small pieces.

2. Heat water in a small pan over medium heat. When water boils, add quinoa, corn, tomatoes, and salt. Bring to a second boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed.

3. Place cooked quinoa and corn in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, pepper, eggs and parsley and mix well. Stir in the pecans last. The mixture should have the consistency of a very thick batter.

4. Pour enough oil in a skillet to cover the bottom of the pan and heat over medium heat. When the oil glazes over start adding the fritters to the pan. Use about 1/4 cup of the mixture to make each fritter and flatten it slightly when you put it in the pan. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes on medium-low heat and flip the fritter. Since it was my first time I realized too late that it's better to slightly under cook and flip again rather than allow the fritter to brown too darkly or burn. When the fritters are done, place them on a towel to drain, then serve with beans and salsa. A helping of coleslaw from a recipe in my book rounded out this perfect humble meal.

I hope you like these as much as I did. I love the way the oil caramelizes the outside of the quinoa and makes the outside crispy. I put salsa on top of these and it looks like my Cooking Assistant is ready to dig in anyway.

Finn gave these fritters the 4 paws up nomination.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Soup Project: Roasted Potato and Leek Soup with Cashew Cream and Broccoli Raab

This time of year is challenging for soup variety, especially if you aren't serving meat, fish or poultry in soup. Local produce right now is limited, but I had this idea of yet another potato soup using red potatoes from Olsen Farms. These potatoes are red inside and out and I thought the color would be fun. But I'd wanted to find something different from the usual Potato-Leek Soup and I soon discovered that all the general cookbooks on my shelves contained potato-leek soup recipes. Does anyone have any real creativity when it comes to potato soup in the spring?Doesn't anyone think beyond leek when you say potato soup?

I can't remember at what point I gave in to leeks, but I figured it was my best bet since there were so many recipes that contained those two ingredients. Unfortunately most of the recipes were way too similar, except for the potato-leek soup recipe in The Bold Vegetarian Chef by Ken Charney. I think it was the cashew cream that caught my eye. I'm a sucker for anything with cashew cream and I hadn't remembered this soup until I opened the book but I first tasted it in a cooking class years ago. That's when I bought this book.

It was PCC Natural Markets in Kirkland, maybe a decade ago. Charney used to teach amazing vegetarian cooking classes at the same time that I taught classes at PCC Natural Markets. He also wrote magazine articles for Vegetarian Times, and he had just published his first cookbook--everything I was aspiring to at the time. But after his book came out, Charney shrugged off writing (it didn't pay enough) and he took a full- position at the West Seattle PCC deli. He also gave up teaching cooking classes. I'd stop by the West Seattle PCC deli once in awhile and say "hi" and then one day an employee told me Ken and his wife moved to Texas. Whatever happened to Ken Charney, maybe he'd be happy to know his book is still inspiring recipes.

In addition to the cashew cream (which takes the soup to another level) I wanted spring greens in the soup, but I didn't find any recipes from my cookbooks that included anything like broccoli raab or mustard greens. Why? I contemplated the greens idea a bit, and then I decided the best way to add them to this soup would be to saute them, then spoon them over the top. I'd never done this before, but I could picture it perfectly--the pink soup, the greens, the drizzle of cashew cream over the greens and soup. Also if I did this, if soup was leftover, the greens wouldn't lose their color, I could simply sautee more greens to freshen up any leftover soup. I hate it when you reheat soup and the greens look like a wrung out jockeys at the racetrack.

Here is the recipe I made (tweak it any way that pleases you):

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup with Cashew Cream and Broccoli Raab
(Makes 4 servings)
This soup is better if you can soak the cashews for at least an hour before you make it. You can use red or white waxy potatoes for this and roast the potatoes first; it caramelizes the outside a bit and gives the soup a little different flavor. The color wasn't quite the pink I'd pictured, especially after I added my favorite dark balsamic vinegar. I can hear my mom calling the color "puce" but the taste is so decadent, you'll soon forget all about the unfortunate dark redish brown color. I have to say that my addition of the lightly sauteed greens added after the soup was cooked was brilliant.

1 cup unsalted cashews
1 cup apple juice
1 1/2 to 2 pounds red or white waxy potatoes, cut in bite-size chunks
3 to 4 cups water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 leeks, sliced and rinsed well, the white and light green parts
1 small fennel bulb, diced (optional)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 to 4 cups chopped broccoli raab or rapini
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

1. Place cashews in apple juice and soak for 1 hour or soak overnight in the refrigerator. Place this mixture in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until about 15 minutes before the soup is ready.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread potatoes in one layer in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Drizzle with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir and roast for 45 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.
Puree half of these potatoes with 1 1/2 to 2 cups water. Pour into a medium-large saucepan.

3. Saute leeks in heavy skillet in remaining olive oil, cooking until soft but not browned. Add fennel, if desired and cook until it softens. Add leeks and fennel to the saucepan with the pureed potatoes and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, adding 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water. Reduce heat, add remaining roasted potatoes with the balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the lemon juice if any tweaking is necessary before serving. In another saucepan, saute chopped greens with a small amount of olive oil. Stir until just wilted.

4. Stir half of the cashew cream into the soup. Ladle into serving bowls. Top with sauteed greens and drizzle with cashew cream, if desired.

This is what it looks like without the cashew cream.

My Cooking Assistant is all about the croutons and crusty artisan bread. At first I wondered why he wouldn't look closer but now I see his disappointment as he gazes into the camera. "Yes but where are the croutons?" his look suggests. Even the dogs are spoiled foodies around here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cooking Assistants and Food Photos

I've been busy with my photography class, so this post is just a short diversion about my final photography project, I decided to focus on my Cooking Assistant and explore his world, since he's so laid back and willing to pose for food. This shot really captured his total contentment with life.

I chose black and white because Finn is always a prop for food photos and with black and white the focus is more on Finn.

He's patient in this position but change his position and the picture-taking moment is uncertain.
Sometimes he loses his focus, but once food is underneath his nose, he assumes a pose. He's a ham with his one pose that sometimes reminds me of Ben Stiller in Zoolander with his "Blue Steel" look. I think perhaps my gentle Cooking Assistant has always wanted to be a model. He has no idea how small-time he really is. I don't have the heart to tell him "he'll never be Marley."

As soon as the food is within reach, I tell him "Wait." But I totally confused him when I handed him a carrot and then said "Wait." In this photo people thought he looked a bit like Winston Churchill with a cigar. Black and white is analyzed differently in the brain than color photos, that's why the two are rarely mixed in a show. If I had gone with color, I think everyone would simply look at the food first.

The last photo stumped the class. Most people thought Finn had a mirror image, but in fact the dog behind him is Chloe, Finn's sister. Finn never lets Chloe come close in his photo shoots and at first I nearly tossed this picture out, but on closer examination, I realized she was staring and learning about what he does with the camera. When I showed the picture to Tom he laughed and said, "Doesn't matter who you are, if you've got something good going, there's always somebody waiting in the wings to take your place."

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Soup Project: Chickpea and Kale Soup with bread crumbs

Though many home cooks pour over weekly store sale ads to plan their menus, I plan weekly dinners from the variety of beans and whole grains that I have on hand in my pantry. I have quinoa, rice and a bit of millet, a tiny amount of wild rice and about 5 varieties of beans. My Monday Soup Project often incorporates beans or grains, so I was looking for inspiration when I swung open the cupboard door.

My eyes fell on the garbanzo beans that I bought at Ayers Creek Farm at the Hillsdale Market last fall. I remembered that day and suddenly chickpeas seemed perfect. I started flipping through the library soup cookbooks to find the perfect recipe that would use up a number of ingredients I already have in my refrigerator.

I stumbled across Chickpea and Spinach Soup in Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen. Madison's books are treasure troves of useable recipes, and this book doesn't fail to inspire. I plan on buying my own copy when a space eases up in my book budget.

I had everything the soup listed--a carrot, a lemon, my last head of garlic from Rent's Due Ranch--all but the spinach, but I knew the soup would be just as good with kale. Oh, I also had a leek instead of an onion but it was an easy switch.

I added a potato and sweet potato (I had both in my pantry) to the mix. All the veggies added up to one very cool vegetable soup with chickpeas.

Here is the recipe:

Chickpea and Kale Soup with bread crumbs

1 cup garbanzos, soaked (or chickpeas)
4 cups stock or water
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and minced
1 carrot, sliced
1 sweet potato, diced
1 potato, diced
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups thinly sliced kale
1 leek, washed and thinly sliced up through the light green part
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped pickled peppers such as Mama Lil's
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup coarse bread crumbs blended with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place the garbanzos, stock, garlic, carrot, sweet potato, potato, basil and oregano in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender. When beans are tender, stir in kale.

2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and Mama Lil's Peppers. Stir and cook until soft. Add the leeks and peppers to the soup. Blend in salt to taste. Add lemon zest and juice. SERVES 4 to 6

My Cooking Assistant insists this chickpea soup is best with these fabulous bread crumbs. (I didn't tell him these were just crushed croutons from Grand Central Bakery.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

$100 a Week and Wasted Food

I found this cool blog on Twitter called 7 Items a Week. It's just one post a week that features pictures of seven items to be donated or discarded. It's an odd assortment of random items, and lately 7 Items a Week has been one of my favorite blogs.

Things people discard have always fascinated me; I love checking out "new" stuff at Goodwill and Value Village and the garage sales in the summer. I'm fascinated by estate auctions, always trying to picture the person who owned the items. I think it's amazing that a collection of junk always survives after everyone is gone or has passed on these items.

The blog made me think about how many things get tossed out in my own kitchen. Then my thoughts turned to food waste in general in America. I've seen waste in dumpsters behind restaurants, once I saw a bin behind a restaurant filled with oranges, but I never really gave that much thought to the food we all waste in America.

An online search turned up this article from 2008 that says the United States Department of Ag estimated that 26 percent of 356 billion tons of edible food is wasted each year. In this article on Culinate, a former University of Arizona anthropologist estimates that 40 percent of the food in America is wasted, and another researcher at Stanford said 25 percent of the food that enters our homes is wasted.

In keeping with the idea of 7 things, I chose seven items from pantry and refrigerator to toss. Here's my list:

1. Canned organic pineapple--I think I purchased this can when I taught cooking classes or maybe it was for some recipe in a magazine article I wrote. I don't like canned pineapple, and I haven't taught cooking classes for 3 years now, but the can is so old that the ends bulge dangerously. Maybe this can could be tossed but it could also be destined for hazderous waste since the bulging ends indicated botulism-tainted food lurks inside. A phone call is necessary before I make the call for this item.

2. Salted Hazelnuts--This package was fresh last summer when I did a cooking demo at this farmers' market and used these nuts in a dish I made. It wasn't much to take home and I should have planned better and used them at the time. Toasted nuts have a shorter shelf life and after awhile, they become rancid. These few tablespoons of nuts are probably stale and rancid, so now they're destined for the compost heap.

3. Unopened jar of pickled garlic--I bought this jar of pickled garlic at the Lake Forest Park farmers' market, two or maybe even three years ago. I like pickled garlic, but the thing is after I bought this jar, I found another pickled garlic that I liked more, and this one got shoved to the back of the shelf. It's been years since I've seen The Seattle Salad company (the company that produced the garlic) at the farmers' market, so long that the garlic in the jar looks slightly grey. When it's that old it's got to go.

4. Unopened jar of plum jam--A friend gave me this homemade jam over five years ago, and I remember when she made it, she'd said, "Take your jar of jam on the way out." Not wanting to be rude, I took it, but I don't like most jams and preserves, and Tom doesn't like plum jam. Now this jar of stuff looks so old it is a good thing I saw the word "plum" on top to identify it.

5. Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette--I bought this salad dressing when I visited this farm store in 2008. I was interviewing the Merritts for my book and their store sold lots of farm made products. I bought lots of items at the store and this salad dressing was among them. I knew it was too sweet when I tasted it and Tom wasn't excited about it either, but it was too expensive to throw away. So I used it until I couldn't take anymore. Only a few tablespoons to go, but it's old and I'm done with it. Though I enjoyed most everything I bought at the store, a food budget makes me less likely to make random high-end food gambles for processed foods that may die and early death in the refrigerator.

6. Spectrum organic balsamic vinegar--It's not Western Family but the flavor of this organic brand is the equivalent to me. The quality of balsamic vinegar used definitely influences any recipes outcome, so get good balsamic vinegar. Taste it first if you can, good quality costs more, but you don't have to use as much. The flavor should be sublimely smooth and sweet with complex tones that sing. I can't remember how I ended up with this jar of vinegar and the jar says I ate all I could stomach. I found this bottle without a lid in my pantry.

7. Toasted sesame oil--Oil is tricky because if you keep it too long it goes rancid, so if you don't use toasted sesame oil a lot, it's bound to go rancid. You'd think I'd write a date on the bottle, but even then, I'd waste a ton of toasted sesame oil. There just aren't enough recipes. Oh sure, one or two recipes can't do without it, then it's shoved to the back of the shelf. How long has it been this time? I think this oil should slip off my list for good because I throw a partial bottle away every few years. Maybe borrowing among friends is the answer for some ingredients because how much is the real cost of this oil if so much of it is wasted?

I have to say that lower quality isn't always lower price. If you toss out an item because you can't eat it, how much did it really cost? Having a budget should be more about buying quality foods that enhance your life. It's about being mindful about what you consume.

The list was only supposed to include 7 items, but after I choose the "winners", I spotted two more items destined to the same fate. These products may be well appreciated some people, they just didn't do it for me.

Before my imposed food budget, I tried all kinds of different foods at the market. One day I spotted intriguing legumes called field peas. I asked someone buying them what he was going to do with them and it sounded like he was going basic and pairing the beans with rice and onions. How bad could they be? I'd never met a bean I didn't like, I thought. Until I tasted field peas. With a garbanzo-like texture and a pinto bean flavor and color maybe they have big fans somewhere, but not in my house. I suspect these beans might be best cooked with loads of garlic, maybe tossed in a soup, but now I've let them become very old and they're just about too old to tenderize. Is it worth it? The truth is they take up space and don't have a future beyond my pantry now. If anybody knows what to do with these peas, let me know.
Rye berries was the other poor choice I made at the market. I bought a two pound bag and I'm not sure why I did. I don't like wheat berries, and rye berries cook up a lot like wheat berries. I think at the time I figured I could use rye berries in salads and it would be fine, but when I got them home, I realized who am I kidding? How many salads and how long will it take me to use this many rye berries? I could always freeze the rye berries but they're never my first choice when I cook a whole grain. Eventually the bag will be swallowed by the freezer jumble where all grains go before they die.

When you have a food budget the waste must be scrutinized in the kitchen. It's a job to calculate how much to buy, but seeing foods get wasted can only improve my purchasing strategies.

But wait, here's one thing I took a chance on and won big time. I don't usually like red wine but I bought two and I gave one bottle away and I kept one for myself. It was exactly the perfect red wine for me and now it's on my list for more the next time I stop by that farm in southern Oregon.
What's the first thing you'd toss out of the frig?