zero waste

Cook: Pickled Things

It’s officially summer and you will hopefully have a ton of fresh produce at home from local farmers, and perhaps even from your own back yard. One of the best ways to preserve fresh produce for months is to pickle them.

There are a ton of sources out there who will recommend different ways of doing this, and we encourage you to try different methods and recipes to find what works for you!

To boil it down (food pun, you’re welcome) into five easy steps, here is how we like to pickle!

Step One: Start with clean jars and lids. If you are reusing previously owned jars and lids (good for you!), be sure they are cleaned with hot water and a little dish soap. (You can also boil them in hot water in a large stock pot if you are really concerned about cleanliness…)

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Step Two: Clean whatever fresh produce you are going to pickle, and slice them into whatever serving shape and size you prefer (or leave whole depending on what it is).

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Step Three: Gather the dried and fresh herbs and seeds that you would like to create flavor. This is where you can get really creative! We always like to use a combo of some fresh herbs and some dried herbs.

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Step Four: Bring equal parts water and vinegar to a rapid boil along with salt in a pot on the stove - reduce heat and let simmer for several minutes (some people will recommend also boiling your herbs and seeds during this time as well).

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Step Five: Bring all of these items together for the pickling party. Place your flavoring herbs and seeds in each jar. Fill the jar with the cleaned produce. Carefully pour the vinegar mixture into each jar and leave a bit of space at the top. With a clean towel, carefully and tightly screw on the lids to each jar. Let them cool on your counter until the jar lids pop. Store in your pantry or in your fridge.

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We love the pickled food items that you will find at these local businesses. Check them out!

Jimmy’s Food Store - Khao Noodle Shop - Petra and the Beast - Pickletopia - Yim’s Foods

Plant: Peppers

If you want an easy and productive plant in your home garden, think about planting some hot peppers. They love our Texas heat, and they will prolifically produce peppers (can you say that five times quickly…) for months until winter arrives. And, you can save them in a variety of ways for use throughout the entire calendar year!

In our Dallas urban space, we’ve had good luck with serrano peppers, cayenne peppers, and jalapeño peppers. You can plant them directly in the soil in your landscape bed, or in a container for your patio. The most important thing is to give them at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Water deeply, when you do water them.

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Once you start harvesting hot peppers from your garden, here are some creative ways you can use and save them at home. [Please note if you are getting hands on with these guys, the interior flesh and seeds can cause irritation to your skin, so use caution; and, if you must, use gloves when handling…]

  1. Use them whole in soups or to add some kick to your homemade stock.

  2. Slice or mince the whole pepper, and use in your everyday dishes depending on how spicy you want them to be.

  3. Dehydrate them whole in your oven, dehydrator, or if you want a cool aesthetic in your kitchen - string them up and hang them to air dry.

  4. Pulse/chop the dried peppers in your blender and save in your pantry. You can also mix them with other dried herbs and powders for a homemade rub on grilled summertime meats and seafood.

  5. Make a homemade pepper sauce.

Lastly, check out this wonderful tip sheet from Texas A&M on recommended pepper varieties and growing tips for our region. Happy planting, friends! Pick some plants to grow in your urban space that love our climate, and can feed your family.

Cook: Citrus

When weather gets warmer, we start thinking about buying and using more citrus in our kitchens at home. As prices lower, it is tempting to buy entire bags of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit…having more means you may be tempted to forget (and waste) them if not used.

There are several ways you can use an entire piece of citrus – and even preserve it for the future. Here are some tips from our team:

  1. ZEST or GRATE the peel. One of the fastest and easiest ways to add instant flavor to any dish you are preparing is to add a tsp or TB of citrus zest. Having a zester tool in your kitchen is a must have.

  2. DEHYDRATE the peel. You can use a small paring knife (or vegetable peeler) to carve off small strips. You can dehydrate in the oven at a low temp, or in a dehydrator, or even just air dry in a cool dark space.

  3. JUICE the entire fruit. You can: 1, drink the juice (aqua fresca!); 2, freeze the juice in a bag in the freezer (popsicles!); or 3, mix it with some vinegar in a spray bottle to make an eco friendly household cleaner.

  4. Fruit started to harden? SLICE the entire fruit and store it in the fridge in cold water for a refreshing beverage on a warm day.

All of the tools needed for these items can be purchased at high-end culinary shops like Sur la Table or Williams Sonoma. However, they can also be purchased at Dollar General, Dollar Tree, or your local grocery store (Central Market in Dallas has a great section) that has a kitchen utensils section.

Tools (L-R): zester, box grater, paring knife, vegetable peeler, chef’s knife

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Recycle: Rainwater

It’s hard to believe right now that we will ever see a week without rain, but with a little preparation now, you can still have happy plants during our rainless summer months!  Harvesting rainfall, storing it, and using it during periods of drought is a practice as old as time, but its implementation for landscaping in urban areas today helps with many North Texas issues, specifically:

●      Reduces pressure on city water

●      Shrinks your water bill

●      Captures salt- and mineral- free (ie. chlorine) water for plants

●      Reduces urban erosion and contaminated run-off in stormwater systems

While there are many methods of varying complexity and expense to collecting, storing, and using rainwater, all have the same basic components: catchment surface, distribution, and holding area.   Our two favorite methods below are some of the easiest and most cost-effective in an urban residential setting.

1. UTILIZE A RAIN BARREL

○      By replacing your downspout with a rain chain, or diverting your existing downspout into a 50-gallon water barrel, you collect a significant amount of rain from a fairly small amount of rainfall.  The barrel can then be attached to a pump and hose or a regular spout for hand watering and used in your landscape.

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○      For those more mathematically-minded, there are Supply calculations that will help you determine your required storage capacity based on catchment surface runoff coefficients, the storage capacity of the rain barrels, and roof surface area.  For example, 1 inch of rain on a 1000-square foot wood shingle roof can produce 85-gallons of water. 

○      The collected water is NOT potable water, as there can be trace metals, pesticides,  and microbial contaminants from animal droppings.

2. MAKE A RAIN GARDEN

○      A rain garden is a shallow, depressed landscape feature that collects rainwater run-off from impermeable surfaces.  During a storm, rainwater is immediately diverted from a catchment area like a roof or paved parking lot and collected here where it will soak into the soil within 24-48 hours. 

○      Typically the rain garden will be downhill on a small slope from the catchment area, and small berms will be placed on the downhill perimeter of the rain garden to contain the rainfall. 

○      Plants selected to be planted in the rain garden should be native and able to tolerate both waterlogging for 48 hours and 3 weeks of drought. 

○      This method requires minimal upkeep, and can be an easy source of color in your yard in the form of native perennials and wildflowers!

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Cook: Stock

My kids are always eating carrots and celery so I keep all of the ends of them in a ziplock bag in the fridge.

If you have any recipes that require vegetable/chicken/beef/fish stock, use that extra celery and carrots to make a stock that can be stored in the freezer until needed. Today, I will be making a vegetable stock.

I’ll chop up some onion and gather the seasonings that I plan on using to make a sachet (you can be creative: I used clove, parsley stems, black pepper, and bay leaves). The appropriate term is sachet d’epices which is French for “spice bag”, often called “sachet” for short. (If you don’t want to make a sachet, you can still cook the sachet items in the pot, just strain it carefully after…).

Once the sachet is made, I’ll tie the string on the lid of the pot, add the vegetables and pour enough water to cover them. I’ll place the sachet in the pot and cover with the lid, then let it simmer for at least 3 to 4hrs on medium heat.

After 4hrs of cooking, turn off the heat and let the stock completely cool off for storing.

Your needs will determine how you decide to store the stock. Whether you pour it in several containers or 1 big container with a proper cover/lid, remember to label it. If you put it in the fridge, it’s good for up to 3 days but if you decide to freeze the stock it will keep for months.

I’ll be making some broccoli cheese soup with this!

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Cook: Winter Greens

January is a great time to buy and cook local winter greens - broccoli, chard, kale, spinach, collards…we hope you sauté, or braise, or steam these beauties at home for your family.

However, if you don’t think you will be able to cook them in time before they go bad, here’s a quick tutorial on how to blanch them and save them for a future date!

Blanching is a culinary term that means, “to cook an item partially and very briefly in boiling water or in hot fat.  Usually a pre-preparation technique, as to loosen peels of vegetables, fruits, and nuts, to partially cook French fries or other foods before service, to prepare for freezing, or to remove undesirable flavors.” [Source: “Professional Cooking”, Wayne Gisslen]

That’s a technical way to say: quickly cook at high temp, then chill immediately.

Here’s what you do:

1.     Chop up the greens. While chopping, put a pot of salted water on the stovetop and bring that water to a rapid boil.

2.     Once water is boiling vigorously, put the greens in and let them cook for 1-3 minutes. It is important to not let them boil for too long, as you will lose more nutrients and texture the longer they cook. Wait for them to turn a bright color and soften slightly…for thicker greens, boil slightly longer – more delicate greens only need 1 minute or so.

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3.     While the greens are boiling, get another bowl and fill it with ice water (this is your “ice bath” for the greens – yes, they’re getting a little spa treatment…)

4.     Drain greens in a colander, and quickly move them to their ice bath. Let them cool to room temperature. Drain them again in the colander.

5.     Put greens in Ziploc freezer bags and label with the date you cooked them. Store them in your freezer.

Blanch away, friends!  Don’t waste those good greens.