Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Eating Brussels Sprouts Stalks—Really!

Photo of a Brussels sprouts stalk with all the sprouts cut off, set on a bamboo cutting board and Global chef's knife.  https://trimazing.com/

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the colorful leaves, wearing jeans and sweaters, crisp, sunny days, and fall veggies. Brussels sprouts are some of my favorite and I love buying them still on the stalk. They look like some medieval weapon! I don't buy them on the stalk to beat anyone with or just because it's cool, I like that I don't have to trim the ends of the individual sprouts that get hard and discolored in storage at the grocery store, and there's no wasteful plastic mesh bag to deal with. Plus, they're usually much fresher on the stalk, lending to better flavor. Brussels sprouts tend to get a stronger flavor when stored, which is probably why a lot of people don't like Brussels sproutsthey're eating old, strong-flavored ones.

 Brussels sprout stalk. https://trimazing.com/
Brussels Sprouts Stalk
Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable, in the cabbage, cauliflower, and kale family. They look like miniature cabbages, which is what the French call them, choux de bruxelles, "Brussels cabbages." Thomas Jefferson actually introduced Brussels sprouts to the US in 1812. While Brussels sprouts are super nutritious, full of vitamins A, C, K, folate, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and thiamine, their true claim to fame comes from their antioxidant and phytonutrient content, which has the ability to kill more cancer cells than any other vegetable (as noted by Michael Greger, MD of NutritionFacts.org and Jo Robinson of Eating on the Wild Side)! These are vegetables that you do really want to eat.

I posted the picture above on my Instagram last week and one of my followers, green_mama_doc, inquired if I'd ever eaten the stalk. Well I hadn't, but oddly enough, I was wondering if there was something I could do with it on a zero waste perspective. I love to eat broccoli stems, in fact, I prefer them over the flowery ends, so I was intrigued by this. I did a little research online and found only a couple sources that talked about braising the stalks for hours to cook the core, which they scooped out and spread on breadlike a kind of vegan "bone marrow." Now I've never eaten bone marrow and it certainly does not appeal to me, but I'm all-in to use scraps and reduce food waste!

So I decided to try cooking the stalk in my Instant Pot because I didn't really want to babysit a braise. I added 2 cups of vegetable stock I'd made from scraps to the Instant Pot and then set to work on cutting the Brussels stalk into chunks that would fit.

Photo of the author trying to cut Brussels Stalk with a serrated knife. https://trimazing.com/
Trying to Cut Stalk with Serrated Knife
Photo of the author Breaking Brussels stalk over edge of the counter. https://trimazing.com/
Breaking over the Counter
The stalk is really tough! I was able to cut the top section fairly easily, but none of my knives would cut through the larger sections, and I'd recently had my knives sharpened! I tried sawing with a serrated bread knife, which helped deepen the score line, but it didn't go through.

After scoring the stalk all the way around, I just broke it over the edge of my counter.

You can see there is a large pale core in the center of the stalk. It looks a lot like a broccoli stem. I didn't try to peel this because of all the nubs where the leaf stems and sprouts had attached. And, I wouldn't recommend this because of what I discovered after the stalks were cooked.

Photo of the cut end of a Brussels stalk, showing the pale center core. https://trimazing.com/
Pale Core in the Center of the Brussels Stalk

Photo of chunks of Brussels stalks stacked in a InstantPot with vegetable stalk. https://trimazing.com/
Stalks in Instant Pot

I added the chunks to my Instant Pot with the stock and set it to High Pressure for 45 minutes. The notes I'd seen on braising the stalks had said to braise for 2-3 hours, so I figured 45 minutes might do it.

When time was up, I did a quick pressure release because I figured it'd been in there a long time and I was anxious to see how it worked!

The stalks looked and smelled like cooked Brussels sproutsI know, duh! And the outside of the stalk was soft, including the leaf stems.

Photo of Brussels stalks that had been cooked in an InstantPot with vegetable stock. https://trimazing.com/
Brussels Stocks that were Cooked in the Instant Pot

I pulled a chunk out with tongs and worked to split the stalk lengthwise, and it cut through with a little effort.

Photo of author holding cooked Brussels stalks on a bamboo cutting board with tongs and splitting them lengthwise with a chef's knife. https://trimazing.com/
Splitting the Cooked Brussels Stalks

The inner core was super soft and scooped right out with a spoon. The other part of the round core was hard and wooden, bone-like, so I can see why people would compare it to eating bone marrow. It's definitely not edible.

Photo of the author scooping the core from the cooked Brussels stalk with a spoon. https://trimazing.com/
Scooping Out Cooked Core

And then I realized that the outer skin was peeling off too! So I scraped it all off, leaving just the empty wooden core. I would have lost all this if I'd peeled the stalk prior to cooking it,

Photo of the author scraping the skin and leaf stems from the cooked Brussels stalk with a spoon. https://trimazing.com/
Scraping Off Cooked Skin and Leaf Stems

Photo of the author holding resulting wooden stalk that's left from scraping out the core and outside of the cooked Brussels stalks. https://trimazing.com/
The Hard Woody Pieces Left From Scraping the Cooked Brussels Stalks

The stalk yielded a ton of pulp, about 4 cups!

Photo of a bamboo cutting board with the scraped Brussels stalks and a bowl holding the four cups of Brussels stalks pulp that was scraped of the cooked stalks. https://trimazing.com/
Four Cups of Pulp and the Empty Cooked Brussels Stalks
In the end, I was left with a whole lot less waste and a lot of edible food that would otherwise go into my compost bin. I was amazed how much food the cooked stalk yielded!

So what does it taste like? Well it tastes like Brussels sprouts, but actually taste more like artichoke hearts to me! The inner core is sweeter than the outer skin, and it's pulpy, like pureed Brussels or artichoke hearts. The outer skin has a texture very similar to artichoke hearts. I think it's delicious and that it'd be a great substitute for artichoke hearts if you needed a bunch for a recipe and didn't want to go to all that work to trim artichokes for the hearts. It really would be a cost-effective substitute! 

In that vein, I experimented using the braised Brussels stalk core and skin in making a Mock
Artichoke and Potato Gratin. I sauteed some onion and garlic until soft, peeled a mix of potatoes I had from the garden and sliced them 1/4-inch thick on the mandolin, and made a mixture of soy milk and cheesy sauce I had leftover from making mac'n'cheez earlier in the week. I poured a little bit of the cheezy mixture on the bottom of a baking dish, layered the potatoes, onion/garlic mixture, braised Brussels stalk pulp and skin, poured the rest of the cheezy milk mixture on top, covered it, and popped into a preheated 400 degree oven for two hours.

It is delicious! And, if you didn't say anything, no one would realize it wasn't artichokes! So amazing!

Have you tried Brussels sprouts stalks? What did you think? How did you use them?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Refrigerator Salad Bar!

Photo of bowls of chopped veggies in containers on a counter arranged like a rainbow, including red cabbage, orange bell pepper, yellow cherry tomatoes, yellow summer squash, corn kernals, green onions, and mixed salad greens. https://trimazing.com/

Last month I participated in a video challenge to learn about taking videos, editing them, uploading them, and being more comfortable in front of the camera so that I could use them in my blog posts and in health coaching. One of the challenges included discussing a tip I share with my clients. Of course, I have lots of tips, but I chose one of my favorite ones for this: Turning your refrigerator in to a great salad bar!

For a lot of people, eating vegetables is hard, not necessarily because they don't like eating them, but because it can take time to prep veggies, not really fast food. They know they should eat a salad, but in order to do this, they have to wash, peel, and chop everything and then clean the mess up afterward. I get it! 

But think about a great salad bar in a grocery store or restaurant. Isn't it great to go with a big plate and grab a little bit of this and a little bit of that and easily have a big gorgeous salad? Everything looks so good and before you know it, you've run out of room on your plate! What made it easy was having everything ready and at hand. And you can do that at home too!

Here's my tips for turning your refrigerator into a great salad bar:

1. It starts with great shopping.

Photo of a stand at a farmers market with red cabbage, cauliflower, green cabbage, celery, rhubarb, broccoli, cucumbers, white and red radishes. https://trimazing.com/
Farmers Market Stand

You're going to need veggies, fruits, nuts, salad dressings, beans, grains, etc. to build your salad bar. Pick out things that are in season, a variety of colors (eat the rainbow), and things you want to eat.  You don't necessarily have to buy pounds and pounds of something, get bits of many different things so that your salad bar is full of variety. A bunch of little things add up quick! And don't be afraid to try new or different veggies. 

Photo of a pile of winter squash, including red kuri and kabocha. https://trimazing.com/
Red Kuri and Kabocha Squashes
  • Brussels sprouts - they can be thinly shredded into a chiffonade and mixed in with your greens.
  • Fennel - crunchy like celery but with a licorice-like flavor. You can use the bulbs for crunch and the feathery fronds like an herb or flavor.
  • Winter squash and sweet potatoes - cut into cubes, roast, then chill for added sweetness to your salad. Or, grate or spiralize raw—yes, you can eat raw winter squash and sweet potatoes and they're delicious!
  • Pomegrante seeds - give a pop to your salad and excellent antioxidants.
  • Apples and oranges - chopped fresh apple and sectioned oranges go great on salads.
  • Greens - there are a world of greens out there! Try mixing a whole bunch of different kinds, such as rainbow chard, arugula, different lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.
  • Roasted fingerling potatoes - make a salad Nicoise with steamed green beans, olives, raw firm tofu, jackfruit no-tuna, tomatoes, and oil-free vinaigrette.

2. Prep everything at once and put in containers in your refrigerator.

Unwashed, bagged up, whole vegetables tend to stay that way when you're in a hurry. So when you come home from grocery shopping, or on a prep day, take the time to prep all your fruits and veggies so they're ready in snap later and throughout your week. This gets all the work out of the way later and you only have to clean up a big mess once from all that prepping.

Photo of different containers of veggies in a refrigerator. https://trimazing.com/
Different Containers of Veggies in my Fridge
Find containers that you like and are convenient for you. I love Pyrex Simply Store containers because they stack well, are freezer and microwave safe, are clear, and have several sizes. I also use canning jars, because I have a ton of them, and miscellaneous glass jars with lids. Whatever you use, put your prepared veggies, fruits, and grains in your containers as you go and store them in your fridge.

Now's a good time to consider roasting some of your veggies too! Take some of your prepped veggies, toss with a little balsamic vinegar or soy sauce thinned out with a little water, add some herbs, put on a parchment paper or silicone baking mat (like Silpat) on a baking sheet, and pop in a preheated 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, turning a couple times during baking. Allow to cool when done and then store in containers in the fridge.

A note on avocados. They don't store well cut up. Keep your avocados whole and then cut up when you want to add them to your salad.

3. Make grains ahead of time.

Photo of multiple quart canning jars and a large 1 gallon glass jar with various dry grains in a wire shelf pantry. https://trimazing.com/
Various Grains in my Pantry

Grains are really hearty and satisfying and make a big impact on a salad. Cook your grains while you're prepping your veggies, either on the stove, in a rice cooker, or in an Instant Pot (note, Amazon generally marks Instant Pots waaaayyyy down for the Thanksgiving sale, so keep your eye out for that coming up!).

Here are some of my favorite grains:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Bulgar
  • Couscous
  • Wheat berries

And here's a tip within a tip: When you cook grains, ALWAYS cook up more than you need and pop the excess amount in the freezer! Grains freeze great and it's a HUGE time saver to be able to grab a package of already cooked grains out of the freezer and either thaw in the fridge or pop in the microwave for a few minutes when you're crunched for time. They even sell bags of cooked grains in the freezer section of grocery stores now, but why pay $3.00 for four servings of pre-cooked frozen organic brown rice when you can pay $5.00 for 45 servings of uncooked organic brown rice you can cook and freeze yourself at home? And you can do this with any grains, not just rice.

Whole grain pastas are fantastic in salads too. Try cooking up some orzo, spirals, or small macaroni shapes to add.

4. Have cooked beans on hand.

Photo of cooked scarlet runner beans in a glass container bowl. https://trimazing.com/
Cooked Scarlet Runner Beans
Beans are so good for us! And they're easy to have on hand. Stock up on canned beans, choosing a variety of low-sodium options. During your prep time, simply drain, rinse, and store your beans in a container to use later.

Like grains, you can cook beans from dry and have in the fridge or freeze. You can also can your own if you're so inclined. And like grains, if you cook some up, always make more than you need now so you have some later. I freeze a lot of beans and then simply pull a frozen container out and put in my fridge to have with my salads during the week.

5. Prep some hearty add-ons.

Maybe you want some added heartiness to your salad. Cube, marinate, and bake some firm tofu and then store in the fridge. Or do the same with tempeh. There are some great recipes out there for making tempeh bacon which you can cut up and have in the freezer for instant whole food, plant-based bacon bits! Make Mexican jackfruit (find recipe in the blog post about using the herb Papalo) or no-tuna salad. Want chef salad? Consider vegan lunch meats, seitan, and cheeses available in most grocery stores.

6. Use your freezer to supplement great salad ingredients.

Photo of jars of frozen veggies and fruits in a freezer door. https://trimazing.com/
Frozen Veggies and Fruits in my Freezer
So I've eluded to this in the previous sections with grains and beans, but have frozen veggies on hand too. Frozen vegetables are a fantastic option because frozen veggies you buy at the store are flash-frozen right after picking, preserving a lot of their nutrients, better than their canned counterparts. To use, you can simply put frozen veggies into a colander and run cold water over to thaw, or put in a container from frozen into your fridge and let them thaw. I do like to blanch and freeze a lot of my own veggies so I don't have the plastic freezer bag to deal with. You can find out more in my blog about keeping a zero waste fridge and freezer.

My favorites:
  • Petite green peas
  • Corn kernels
  • Shelled edamame

7. Keep nuts, seeds, dried fruit, fermented foods on hand for toppings.

A lot of nuts and seeds contain Omega-3 fatty acids we need. They also have healthy phytonutrients and antioxidants, and are pretty dang tasty too! Keep them in your fridge or freezer to prevent the oils from going rancid. Some good ones to consider:
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Hemp seed
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Ground flax
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
Have leftover or stale bread? Make croutons by cubing it up and toasting in an oven. A great zero-waste solution!

Fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi are excellent in salads and so good for you. Fermented foods provide healthy probiotics that our gut microbiome needs for optimal health.

8. Have great salad dressing at the ready, or flavored vinegars that you love.

Look for oil-free salad dressings as much as possible. You're going to fill yourself up with all this healthy goodness, why foul it all up with unnecessary refined oil? There are some excellent oil-free options out there, even at the grocery store, you just need to check labels. You can also check out my Pinterest for simple oil-free dressings you can make at home. Flavored vinegars are a great option as well!

9. Keep prepped veggies at eye level.

Now that you've gone to all this work, put your containers of veggie love where you see them in your fridge. That way when you open the fridge at mealtime or in search of a snack, you'll see all these goodies and will think to grab them!

It's also a reminder that you need to use them so they don't spoil. Having veggies in your main area of the fridge rather than hidden in opaque crisper drawers helps reduce food waste because you know what's in there.

You've got everything chopped...Now what?

Build your salad! Simply pull out containers and pile it on! Or...

Make Salad in a Jar.

These are great for grab-and-go lunches and snacks for school or work. Simply layer your salad, with the dressing at the bottom, to keep everything fresh and prevent things from getting soggy. You can build these at the beginning of the week and have them all ready for the next several days. They keep about three days. To serve, shake and dump onto a plate or into a bowl.

Graphic with direction for salad in a jar recipe. https://trimazing.com/

Make a Buddha Bowl!

Buddha bowls are awesome! The key to a great Buddha bowl is that they have:

  • A Grain - this includes noodles, like udon or soba!
  • A Green - any type you like
  • A Protein - tofu, tempeh, seitan
  • 2-3 Colors of Veggies
  • A Healthy Fat - avocado, nuts, seeds
  • Flavor - dressing, fermented foods, herbs, spices
Need some Buddha bowl ideas? Check my Pinterest for some great links! But some of my favorite include vegan sushi salad with rice, nori rice seasoning, pickled ginger, baked tofu, veggies, and avocado; burrito bowl with rice, beans, greens, roasted fajita veggies, salsa, and guacamole.

Use those scraps!

Photo of a stainless steel bowl of vegetable scraps ready to be made into veggie stock. https://trimazing.com/
Veggie Scraps for Stock
During prep day, save the peels, root ends, stems, and leaves and make veggie stock! For more information on making veggie stock, check out my blog post, Canning Vegetable Stock (Note, you don't have to can it, you can use right away or freeze. All options are in the post). If you don't have time to make the stock during prep day, just freeze all those scraps! I stuff scraps into quart canning jars and put them in my freezer until I'm ready to make stock. Then, when I'm ready, I put warm water into the jars to release all the scraps, pour into my Instant Pot or stock pot, add any additional water, and simmer away! Simply compost or vermicompost your cooked scraps after your strain off your scraps. It's a great zero waste option.

Make soup!

I've always loved the days after throwing a party because, inevitably, there was always a portion of the veggie platter leftover and I'd chop the vegetables all up and make vegetable soup. Having a refrigerator salad bar is just like having an after-party veggie platter. If it's getting to the end of the week and end of your veggies lifespan, simply turn them into soup, adding some of your homemade stock from the scraps, herbs and spices, beans, pasta or other grains, and voila! Homemade vegetable soup is surprisingly one of our grandkids' favorite things, next to applesauce, that is! And, if you have more soup than you can handle, portion it off into your containers and freeze for a quick meal another day.

The convenience and waste reduction of prepared veggies.

Beyond having the ease of quick salads, bowls, soups, etc., having chopped vegetables on hand really speeds up cooking, especially weeknight dinners or morning tofu scrambles. I don't have to worry about taking the time to clean and chop veggiesI have instant mis en place, the fancy French word chef's use for having everything chopped, measured, and ready for efficient cooking. It also makes making smoothies faster!

I find that if I have cut up fruits and veggies available, I grab them for snacks. Dressing can serve as a dip. Crunchy pieces of celery work great for a snack bowl and is so much better for me than a bowl of granola.

Photo of an aluminum mini muffin tray with snacks in each hole (carrots, celery, Romanesco, apple, dried cranberries, pecans) amongst kids' toys (fire engine with extended ladder, UNO cards, coloring book and crayons). https://trimazing.com/
Snack Tray in Action!
And here's a great tip for families with kids. Our grandkids love what we call Snack Trays. We use ice cube trays or mini muffin tins and fill the compartments with yummy, healthy snacks. They can choose from the fruits, veggies, nuts, and dips we have and it makes it really simple when we've got things already prepped. Dips, like hummus, dressings, or nut butters, can go in them too. Then they've got a fun little tray they can carry around. Nothing touches, they don't have to share, and it doesn't fall off a plate! Plus, it's super fun and different for them, which kids like.

Finally, having veggies prepped and at eye means you're more likely to use them and can monitor their freshness. Crisper drawers, while great for keeping fruits and vegetables together, are also great vegetable concealers. How many times have you opened your crisper to discover a mushy pile of some veggie you completely forgot about? I know that's happened to me on more than one occasion, but prepped veggies early in the week has exponentially cut down on this problem.

I hope you find this tip helpful. A little bit of work on the front end really does make life easier and helps to make healthy eating choices.