Nearly and freshly expired soup

Winter is a great time to eat your way through your pantry, with a keen eye on expiration dates. Last week, I found these products were all nearly expired or freshly expired:

IMG_0120

So I threw all of this into a slow cooker, along with lentils, brown rice, and spices. Wha la! I made many tasty lunches and dinners from food that might have been wasted… had I not searched for expired food in the dark corners of my pantry.

The inspiration for this soup came from a 99% Invisible Podcast called Best Enjoyed By (episode 195).

Use by
Sell by
Best by
Best if used by
Expires on
Forget about it after

What do all these mean? Today, there are no definitions or standards for the freshness labels that we see on our food. Companies can print whatever they like on their products. Also the labels are about freshness, not food safety. Food that is past its freshness date is not necessarily unsafe to eat.

So what should we do? Take a sniff and taste test?

In the end, common sense must prevail. Just as you wouldn’t drink milk that tasted funky (even when not expired), the ‘Best by’ date doesn’t have to mean the ‘Toss date’. At least that’s my thought.

What do you think? Is it safe to eat food past its freshness date?

I found this additional morsel of info on the USDA website:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

 

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Learning to love lovely lentils

I’ve discovered a perfect food.

Lentils.

Lentils are perfect because they are . . .

  • inexpensive (a pound of dried lentils is $1)
  • chameleon-like; lentils take on the flavor of their surroundings
  • quick and easy to cook
  • nutritious (protein, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins)

Yes, lentils are perfect.

I made two pots of ‘Lovely Lentils’ this week after stumbling on Jules Clancy’s Stone Soup blog.

Lovely Lentils

1/2 lb of dried lentils
1 onion
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Add dried lentils to a pot of cold water (water should cover the lentils).
  2. Roughly chop up an onion and add it to the pot.
  3. Bring the lentils to a boil.
  4. Turn down the heat to medium and cook for 15-20 minutes.
  5. When the lentils are the texture that you’d like (I like tender, but still a little firm), drain the lentils well.
  6. Put the lentils back into the pot.
  7. Stir in equal parts soy sauce and sherry vinegar (1-2 T).
  8. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil.
  9. Add some pepper if you’d like.

Store leftovers in the fridge and reheat for an instant snack, a side dish, or breakfast. Yes, I said breakfast! After a few days of eating lentils for lunch, I woke up one morning craving lentils. Kind of crazy.

Variations: I added roasted red peppers one day and goat cheese another day.

Jules Clancy’s blog has delicious recipes and most have just 5 ingredients.

What do you think is a perfect food?

Cold-brewed coffee

It’s July in Seattle and we’re experiencing the occasional summer-like day, which means it’s time to switch to iced coffee beverages!

A couple years ago I discovered the joy of cold brewed coffee. This super smooth coffee magically brews overnight, allowing you to wake up to tasty coffee goodness. I got this recipe from Rachel Meeks at Small Notebook. (Thanks Rachel!)Picture of iced coffee

Cold-brewed coffee

  1. Add 1/4 cup coarse ground coffee and 1 cup cold water to a container (I use a French press, but you could use a glass jar).
  2. Sleep 7 hours (ideally).
  3. The next morning, add 1 cup of water to the container.
  4. Strain and pour the coffee over ice.
  5. Add milk and sugar as desired.

That’s it!

With a little night-before planning, you could be drinking smooth iced coffee in seconds (without a trip to a coffee shop).

Here’s to fabulous summertime coffee. Cheers!

My 365 photo blog post for today:

A picture of shadows on sand

Carrots galore

Carrots are a great frugal food. You can buy a big bunch of large carrots for just a few bucks at any time of the year. I recently discovered an excellent recipe for marinated carrots. It’s so good that I’ve been eating more carrots than I normally do (plain ol’ baby carrots get old pretty fast).

Picture of carrots with mint

Here’s the recipe:

Marinated Carrots from ‘Mediterranean Harvest’ by Martha Rose Shulman

1 pound of carrots cut into sticks
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T olive oil
coarse sea or kosher salt
fresh mint, finely chopped (optional)

Steam the carrots for 5 to 6 minutes, until just tender. Refresh with cold water and toss with the oil, sherry, salt, and fresh mint. The carrots will keep in the fridge for a week, standing ready when you need a snack, lunch, or a dinner side dish.

That’s it!

Super easy, tasty, and frugal. Also plastic-free, if you buy individual carrots and bring your own reusable produce bag.

How do you like to eat carrots?

My photo blog post for today:

Hosta leaves

Salads with meatless protein

It’s Meatless Monday! Meatless Monday is a non-profit campaign aimed at reducing meat consumption in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet. You can get plenty of protein in your diet without eating meat.

Last weekend I whipped up a great protein salad using two of my favorite protein sources: eggs and humus.

Fresh lettuce, orange pepper, and green onions (veggies that I had on hand), topped with hard boiled eggs (allowed to cool) and a big dollop of Mediterranean humus. Lunch! No dressing needed.

Minimal cost, maximum taste, minimal effort, and plenty of protein.

Here are some other protein ideas for salads:

Salads can be the main course and come packed with meatless-protein. Poke around the web and find a recipe that inspires you! You can post recipes or a link in a comment. Bon appétit!

Glazed nuts

One of my favorite salads includes candied nuts, fruit and bleu or goat cheese. I’ve been buying glazed nuts, but no more.

Sorry Emerald, but these nuts are:

a. Overly sweet (corn syrup anyone?)
b. Not so nutty, more like sugar blobs 
c. Kind of expensive

Time for a change. Glazed nuts can’t be that hard to make. Right? I got the following recipe from my Mom, who used to make spiced walnuts during the holidays.

Spiced Nuts

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 T water
3 cups of nuts

To be honest I don’t measure spices; I eyeball. I did, however, measure the water and the sugar. You can change the spices to whatever you’d like. Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Bring the ingredients to a boil (minus the nuts)
  2. Remove from heat
  3. Stir in the nuts

The whole process takes ten minutes AND I can tell you that these nuts are much tastier. They taste like nuts (and sugar). Here they are sprawled out on wax paper.

Making my own glazed nuts allows me to make them just how I like (tastier) and save a few bucks. It’s a win-win situation.

Perfecto!

How about you? What do you like to make instead of buy?

Homemade banana bread

When I spy with my little eye something that begins with the letter O (overripe bananas), I think smoothie or banana bread. This morning I chose banana bread.

bananabread

This loaf took 15 minutes to assemble and I think it was worth every minute. There’s nothing like homemade banana bread. Yum.

My Banana Bread Recipe (adaption of a Cooking Light recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the following ingredients until well-blended: 

3 or so ripe bananas mashed
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
splash of vanilla 
2 eggs

Now add the dry stuff:

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Butter a loaf pan and pour in the banana bread mixture. Bake until the middle is firmish – 40 minutes at 350 degrees (my kids like banana bread a little doughy). Let the bread cool for 10 minutes before attempting to remove from the pan.

If 15 minutes seems too time consuming for a single loaf, double the recipe. Then pop the extra loaf into the freezer for another day.

sliceofbananabread

Homemade banana bread: A simple tasty treat.