easy weeknight dinner

Reduce Food Waste at Home with Ends + Stems

Indulge me for a moment, will you? Go to your fridge right now. Do a quick inventory. Take special note of any fruits, veggies, or odd leftover boxes of Chinese take-out rice that might be inching just a little close to “not edible anymore.” If I asked you to make dinner tonight with JUST that food, could you do it? Would you want to?

It’s tough to come up with ideas on the fly for all those odds and ends, right? You’ve had a long day, the kids, or well, probably YOU, too, want dinner NAOW! You may not feel terribly motivated to be creative after giving all your energy to other stuff all day. I get it. But, I think we all also get that those leftover bits we don’t know how to use will probably end up in the trash, maybe the compost, but definitely not on the dinner table– that’s money wasted, time wasted, and (duh) FOOD wasted.  That’s why I’m so stoked about a new meal planning service called Ends + Stems, designed specifically to help make sure you use up those, well, ends and stems.

Alison Mountford is the brains behind the operations at Ends + Stems. She’s been a professional chef since 2004, and her career has spanned from personal cheffing, to running a meal delivery service, to some time spent in large scale food tech. Over the course of the last 14 years, she’s had the opportunity to work closely with small farmers, to get an up close look at how our food system works. But, she’s also worked in the homes of families who use the food grown by those farmers, and has taken note of how they do their shopping, how they utilize food, and the logistical concerns that could stand in the way of making that little bit of extra effort to help reduce or even eliminate household food waste.

“The classic advice to reduce your food waste is 1. Write out a meal plan, 2. Shop intentionally. But that takes so much time and effort! The thousands of families I’ve spoken with do care about their waste and its effect on the environment, but they’re already so busy and asked to care about so much,” she says.

In other words, Alison gets it.

She decided she wanted to launch Ends + Stems as a full blown meal planning service in July of this year, and TODAY the very first meal plan goes live.

Meal plans come with easy to follow recipes for nutritious meals, as well as your weekly shopping list, designed to help you purchase only what you need to cook through the recipes.  The final recipe for the week helps you pull together what’s left over from your shopping trip, so nothing goes to waste.

This post isn’t sponsored. She didn’t ask me to write it. I heard about Ends + Stems through another chef friend, and after getting the full scoop, I was totally on board to support a product that ticked so many boxes for me. Woman-owned business? Check! Helps reduce food waste? Check! Does all my thinking for me (at least when it comes to meal planning)? Check! Check! Check!

Here’s another big win– If you sign up with Ends + Stems anytime in the next six months, it’s free! Alison and her team believe that by building a community of Ends + Stems meal planners, trading tips, talking about their favorite recipes, and really helping to make Ends + Stems a resource for home cooks, word will spread and everyone will want to get on board this No Food Waste train. Small, meaningful change in how we shop and cook CAN make a difference.

I’ve made it super easy for you to sign up… just click anywhere you see Ends + Stems in this blog post to head over to the website and get started. Once you’ve signed up, spend a little time checking out any of the great videos posted there, look through more tips on reducing food waste, and connect with Ends + Stems on social media to keep up with all the newest stuff being added to make your experience even richer.

Instagram: @endsandstems
Facebook: Ends + Stems

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead

Happy Cooking!

My own personal chicken-based rebellion

NOTE:  This post is not sponsored. I just got curious and I had a coupon for this product.

I’ve been feeling a little rebellious, lately. Sassy, if you will. If you’re into astrology, you might have some logical explanation for why a Virgo who thrives on order has literally decided to thrust herself into Let’s Just See What Happens-land this year, but from my end, it just feels like it’s not the time to play it safe. Even when I cook, I’ve been throwing caution to the wind. I’m usually not good at things not coming out the way I want them to in the kitchen, so this is kind of a big step for me, this being okay with not being sure thing.

But, here we are.

I’ll admit, this chicken recipe was somewhat of a calculated risk, in that, I sort of knew that if the product was what I thought it was, it would probably not be awful. However, when I saw a coupon for a free package of Bush’s “Hummus Made Easy” product on the local grocery store app, I will also admit to not really reading the package before I grabbed it and threw it in my cart. I got a general sense that if you put the contents of the packet into a food processor with a can of chickpeas, you’d end up with something resembling hummus.

You guys, I didn’t want hummus. I’m a little sick of hummus right now. I thought about hummus and it just made me kind of sleepy.

But it was free! And I already took it home! So….. I literally thought about nothing but the fact that I didn’t want to make hummus with this stuff for like, a week. Every time my brain tried to go into “screen saver mode,” it would jump back to this free package of hummus mix that was sitting in the cupboard. Waiting.

I’m taking a really long time to tell this story. Sorry, I got a little stream of consciousness there.

Anyhoots, someone at work used the word “marinate” when talking about thinking about something for awhile before making a decision, and then it hit me. Yes! I’ll use it as a marinade. Because I’d been marinating on this whole, “what to do with the free hummus stuff” thing so long, I feel like it was sort of meant, you know what I mean? I finally read the ingredients and discovered that the list was really straightforward. Nothing to be creeped out about at all: Water, tahini, olive oil, garlic, salt, lemon juice, sugar, and a little citric acid.

My FoodKeepr app told me I had some veggies in the fridge that were about to not be edible anymore, so I gathered those up, along with a package of chicken thighs, and set about turning this stuff into actual food. Not hummus.

Equipment:
Cutting board
Knife
Gallon sized zip top bag
Baking dish/Casserole dish type thing

Ingredients:
1 package of Bush’s Hummus Made Easy, Classic Flavor*
4-6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
2 cups (ish) large diced red potatoes
1 cup (ish) white button mushrooms (or whatever kind you have handy), sliced or cut into quarters
4-5 stalks green onion, peeled and trimmed, but otherwise left whole
Pan spray
salt & pepper

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray your casserole dish with a little pan spray, and set aside.
2. Season both sides of each chicken thigh with a little salt and pepper. Add the whole package of Hummus Made Easy to the plastic bag, then toss the chicken thighs in. Seal it up and give it a good roll around, then stick it in the fridge to marinate while you prep your veggies, about 15-20 minutes.
3. Dice your potatoes and mushrooms, and trim/clean the green onions. Add the veggies to the baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and give them all a toss so they make friends with each other.
4. Arrange the marinated chicken thighs on top of the veggies, then drizzle the whatever is left of the marinade over everything.
5. Cover the chicken and veggies with foil and pop into the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. If you want the thighs to brown a little, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

I served this with some farro, but it would work with plain old rice, or even couscous. Bear in mind, these are the veggies I had to use up, but if you have a different combo, go for it. Or, if you want to use a different protein, that’s cool, too. I think the Southwest version would be especially tasty with some pork chops, sweet potatoes, chunked up white onion and large diced pasilla or ancho chili peppers.


On the tasty scale, I give this one a solid nine, only because I didn’t get the foil off the chicken in time and the skin wasn’t as brown and crispy as I like. But that marinade really brought so much flavor to the party without having to add a lot of anything else, and it mingled with the chicken and veggie juices in a really lovely way. On the difficulty/effort scale, this recipe comes out at around maybe a four. You can have it on the table in, I’d say, an hour and 15 minutes, at the most, which makes it great for week nights, especially if you’re a meal prepper and have some of the work done ahead of time. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think!

*It also comes in a Southwest flavor, and a roasted red pepper flavor, and I’m sure those would be just lovely, as well.

Put that in your pot and crock it.

Whoever invented the slow cooker deserves a Nobel Prize. I’m not kidding. Economics, Peace, Medicine… any one of them would fit. You put almost any combination of things into it, and four to ten hours later (depending on your patience level) you have a delicious thing to eat that doesn’t bust the budget, and makes everyone feel good. Usually, there are even leftovers.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, right? YOU know.

So, consider today’s recipe for Pot Roast with Mushrooms as an ode to the slow cooker. It’s not necessarily an original, but it’s a go-to for me. It’s gotten a little bit of tweaking over time, so I feel pretty confident in guaranteeing a scrumptious end result, and if you’re lucky, enough leftovers for pot roast sliders later in the week.

Equipment:
1 Slow cooker
1 large saute pan
tongs or something to flip a large piece of meat
1 cup measuring cup
Knife (for slicing mushrooms, if you don’t buy the pre-sliced ones)
Possibly a can opener, if you get canned broth/stock
Mixing spoon or whisk
Large pot, if you intend to further reduce the mushroom gravy at the end.

Ingredients:
1 4lb chuck roast
Salt and Pepper
1 T olive oil (or canola, or any vegetable oil, really)
3 cups beef stock
2 1/2 cups mushrooms
1 packet onion soup mix
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

Directions:
1. Season the chuck roast well on all sides with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the saute pan and heat until the oil is shimmery. Add the chuck roast to the pan and sear it well on all sides. You’re not trying to cook it through, just give it flavor and color. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Don’t forget about all those lovely brown bits on the bottom of the pan! That’s flavor, too, and we don’t want it to go to waste. Add about half a cup of your stock to the pan to deglaze, scraping up all the brown bits. Pour the deglazing liquid into the crockpot, along with the rest of the stock. Add the onion soup mix and stir or whisk to dissolve into the stock.

3. Stir the sliced mushrooms into the liquid, and add the fresh thyme. Then, nestle your roast into the crockpot, so that it’s covered by the liquid.

4. This roast can cook for pretty much whatever time is convenient for you, from 4 hours on high to 10 hours on low. I like to let it go as long as possible on low, if I have the time, because the longer it braises, the more tender and fall-apart-y it gets.

5. Once the roast is cooked through, remove it from the liquid, allow it to cool a bit, then shred it and put it back into the liquid. Alternatively, if you like a thicker, more gravy-like consistency for the sauce, pour it into a large pot, crank the heat to medium-high and allow it to reduce by as much as needed to reach the consistency you want. You can do this while you shred the pot roast, and then add the shredded meat to the gravy.

NOTE: If you decide to reduce the sauce, as described above, don’t add any additional salt until AFTER it’s reduced. If you add salt too early, your sauce flavor with concentrate and may end up too salty.

I served this with a super easy mashed sweet potato side.

Equipment:
Large pot
Potato masher, fork, or whatever you like to use to mash things up
Fork
Colander
Mixing spoon

Ingredients:
5 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into equal sized chunks
6 cups water
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 T unsalted butter
2 T fresh ginger (the stuff that comes in the tube is fine if you don’t want to deal with fresh)
3 T maple syrup
2 tsp Salt plus more, plus Pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Add the water, potatoes, and 2 tsp salt to a large pot. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking until a fork pierces the sweet potato chunks easily.

2. Strain the water from the sweet potatoes, then add them back to the pot over low heat to help dry them out a little further.

3. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and begin mashing. Add the evaporated milk a little at a time as you mash until all large lumps are removed.

4. Add the ginger and maple syrup. Stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dig in!