Sunday, July 12, 2015

Frugality with food (online and offline)

My eldest son likes to eat tomatoes the way others eat apples - straight from the refrigerator, in huge bites. Since I also like having the odd tomato around for salads and sandwiches, I usually buy a lot of tomatoes. However, last time I got some, I'd forgotten that Eldest was going to the US for the summer and our family's tomato consumption rate would be dropping drastically. As a result, I found myself with several soft-ish tomatoes which weren't compeltely spoiled, but really wouldn't do for fresh dishes. Then I remembered that there was a discussion on my local email list not long ago about how resek agvaniot (tomato paste) is full of sugar, and thus a potential stumbling block for diabetics and followers of low-carb diets. So I decided to carry out a culinary experiment and see if I could rise to the challenge of making tomato paste with no sugar that would be every bit as good as the store-bought. I think I succeeded, and I promise to share the recipe below.

See, while it's important to be thrifty while shopping for food - say, by using couponscomparison shopping or by taking advantage of a rebate program such as Snap.In - it's also important to know how to use any leftovers effectively to reduce spoilage and waste. That said, we're talking about food that's a bit stale or soft, not moldy or seriously rotten food. That should be thrown away (on the compost heap if you have one). I would strongly suggest not using raw fish or meat that's in any way 'off', either. We're talking about food which may be slightly unappetizing to look at or serve, not things which can make you severely ill.

While some foods are fairly straightforward to salvage:

  • Stale bread can be turned into French toast or croutons 
  • Tired-looking celery, carrots, kishuim and cabbage can be boiled and rendered into vegetable soup stock (freeze in ice-cube trays and store for future use)
  • Over-ripe bananas can be turned into yummy banana bread, or blended into smoothies
  •  Bruised apples can be made into apple crumble or applesauce
  • Softening summer fruit or berries can similarly be used in a crumble or turned into jam

Sometimes you may have a freezer full of those, or just want a little variety. That's when I turn to the Internet for ideas.

As much as I like my shelf full of colorful cookbooks, I recognize (with more than a little regret) that the printed cookbook, along with the exercise video, is yet another item the Internet is, slowly but surely, rendering obsolete. Increasingly, when I'm looking to make a new dish, the Internet is the first place I go to. Back when I had a clunky desktop computer, I used to print out the recipes and keep them in a looseleaf binder. Nowadays, with laptops, tablets and smartphones available, It's a lot easier to just bring the computer into the kitchen with me and search for a recipe while I work. Recipes my family likes, or just those I find intriguing and plan to make some day,  are put in my Pinterest account for future reference.

Other than Pinterest, and of course a plain Google search, my favorite places to search for recipes are not necessarily the giants Allrecipes and Food.com - though they're quite likely to have something I can use, being a visual person, I prefer Foodgawker, which aggregates recipes from thousands of blogs. If you have an exotic ingredient on hand, say some coconut flour you got from iHerb or Vitacost and have no idea how to use it, you can search and find plenty of recipes containing that ingredient.

If you have specific ingredients you want to use up, Supercook can help you come up with recipes incorporating those very items. So can Recipematcher.

Need more than a simple written recipe, perhaps to demonstrate a specific technique? There's always VideojugeHow and, of course, endless cooking channels just a search away at Youtube.

So don't chuck your not-so-fresh food - find a way online to re-use and even improve it, and freeze for later whatever you don't need right now.

Anyway, here's my meager contribution to the concept- homemade, sugar-free resek agvaniot:

Peel your tomatoes (once they're not taut and fresh, this is very easy to do with your hands after you make a small slit in the tomato's skin) and dice them. Puree with a wand blender in a deep bowl or in a food processor - it'll be much lighter and waterier than tomato paste at this point. Add seasoning - I used a pinch of salt, some garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper - and microwave in a covered Pyrex bowl in 5-minute increments , and then 1-minute ones, until the puree condenses into a paste. Mix well each time you take it out of the microwave to check on it.

I made about 200gr. of paste from 5 medium-large tomatoes. Given relatively high price of tomatoes and how cheap store-bought resek agvaniot is, I'm not sure that buying tomatoes just for this purpose is a huge money saver (though it might be, if you go to the shuk at the very end of the day and offer to take the not-so-nice tomatoes off the vendors' hands for a much reduced price). It is certainly worthwhile, though, to prevent throwing out completely spoiled produce a couple of days later, or if you want sugar-free, preservative-free tomato paste.

Enjoy!

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