I have food issues. Too much food is an issue. I lay awake at night, stressed out about a full refrigerator, trying to figure out who I can invite over for dinner to avoid having to throw stuff out. (Email me if you want to be put on the short list.) I’m not really sure where this comes from. Maybe I’m just cheap, or maybe my experiment with vegetable gardening has scarred me for life – “I just nurtured that little broccoli plant like only a mama can, and THAT’S ALL I GET??” Either way, tossing produce in the waste can feels to me like ripping off a fingernail.
As a result, it’s pretty rare for me to have a stocked fridge. Friends come over and grumble that I have nothing to eat. (I’d like to point out for the record though, that they never leave hungry.) I can tell you, I did not inherit these food issues from SUE!. Her fridge sits full, ready to feed any small armies that may roll through the Legacy Oaks 55 & Over Active Adult Lifestyle Community. At any give time, the woman has on hand in her fridge, among other things:
- No less than six cartons of Laughing Cow Cheese
- Five pounds of mini carrots
- At least 12 single-serve yogurts
- Two gallon containers of skim milk – one that’s open, one as a backup in case of skim-milk emergency
- Two heads of cauliflower
- 18 individually wrapped string-cheeses (this is a lie, there are 18 in her possession, but not necessarily in the fridge. Two can be usually be found in her purse.)
- Three flavors of hummus (all partially eaten)
- Four flavors of Coffeemate creamer – including at least one bottle of French Vanilla Mochamint Gingerbread Latte (That’s one flavor. Eat it, Starbucks.)
And in her freezer:
- An entire school of tilapia fish
- Eight bags of coffee
- Three dozen ice cream sandwiches, in at least 5 flavor combinations. (Dad is okay with this one)
Now that’s a party.
I gotta hand it to her though, she rarely throws food out. Somehow she manages to cultivate a unique ice box equilibrium and sleep soundly at night. Me on the other hand… the grocery store checkout people know (they don’t think, they know) that I’m plain nuts because I come in every day and buy one bell pepper, a half of a chicken breast, two cloves of garlic and one egg. Costco? That place would send me hurling in the fetal position straight to the therapist’s couch.
Despite my weird anti-food-hoarding tendencies, I do still throw way too much out. So in an effort to find balance (and about 3 more hours of sleep a week that I would have otherwise spent roaming Whole Foods), here’s my New Year’s Resolution – I’m vowing to waste less food. I solemnly swear that when I buy something that sounds like a great ingredient, it will not be abandoned in the crisper, and when I bring home leftovers from a restaurant, I’ll actually eat them.
I sort of wonder how it’s become so commonplace for food to end up in the garbage? I come from the Clean Plate Generation. Are portion sizes are so out of whack, food so cheap, and counting calories so commonplace, that it’s easy to end up with a lot of food left on the plate or in the fridge? What happened to the starving children in Africa?? (Of “you better eat that because there are starving children in Africa who would love to have that’ fame.)
The Googler tells me that the average household throws out 122 lbs of food a year – with an estimated value of $600! Take it from a card-carrying RueLaLa addict, that’s a lot of money.
So if you’re going to take the Svelte Fridge Challenge with me, you’re going to need some recipes that you can add just about any vegetable that’s a day or so from going bad to, and will still taste delicious. Cue my fave: the humble hash.
Once limited to potatoes, onions, breakfast meat, and greasy spoon diners, today’s hash is far from a one-trick pony. You can really throw just about any combination of vegetables in here, and with minimal skill or patience, you’ll have a fantastic clean-out-your-produce-drawer side to accompany a piece of meat. Or my favorite – a poached egg. (I’m a devout disciple of the Church of “most anything tastes better with a runny egg yolk on it.”)
On Tuesdays, I get my Full Circle Farm CSA box, (and subsequently no sleep because it STOCKS my fridge) and this week I decided to whip up this Winter Hash using some of the veggies that came in it. It’s a funny thing that Box is – opening it is about as exciting as Christmas morning, but I do kinda sorta spend the next couple days bingeing on produce to make sure not a single leaf is wasted. I wonder if the weekly produce binge is what they mean when they say to “live the good food life”? I’m sure there are worse things. If you need an extra nudge to consider signing up for a CSA box, it’s worth noting though that their veggies last longer in the fridge than produce from the grocery store since they spend less time making their way to your house. Check around for a farm that offers a box in the right size for you – Full Circle just added a ‘seed’ size box that’s smaller than most of the other farms offer, and it’s a very manageable amount of produce for one or two people.
Anyway, back to this Hash. Like I said, it really doesn’t matter what you throw into it as long as it’s got that delicious, crunchy, browned goodness on at least some of it. And I have not one, but TWO (dos!) tricks for you to help you make sure your hash has it.
First, to get that browning (NOT burning, be sure to keep an eye on your heat), use a cast iron or stainless steel (not non-stick) skillet or sauté pan. Then use a smaller heavy lid or skillet (le cruset lids work great for this) to really push the ingredients down when they are cooking. Don’t mash the daylights out it, just press firmly so there’s maximum veggie/skillet contact. About half way through cooking, I slap that lid on the hash and leave it there for the rest of cooking.
Inevitably, after you do this, you’re going to freak out when you stir the hash and see all the stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan. This frond – or more aptly nicknamed “brown bits” – is going to scare you into vowing to never make hash again because of the hours it’s going to take to scrub the pan. DON’T WORRY because we have trick number two:
These little pieces of deliciousness are too good to waste, so when your hash is all cooked up and ready to eat, we are going to very, very gently deglaze the pan and scrape them all up. I’m talking like a scant splash of liquid – just enough to loosen up some of those delicious bits so you can stir them back into the hash. You don’t want to use too much liquid – soggy is the enemy. I like to push the hash to the edges of the pan since most of the brown bits are typically concentrated in the middle. Gently pour some chicken stock or water into the pan and scrape like heck with a wooden spatula. They’ll come loose, and the bottom of the pan will be magically (almost) clean. Then just stir it all up and enjoy.
I hope you’ll experiment with this yummy hash. I hope you’ll eat the good foods you have, and waste less. And I really hope we all get a little more sleep in 2012. Enjoy!
If you want to join me on this soapbox of wasting less, here’s a great Culinate article on how much food gets tossed and why. Looking for something more substantial? Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma will make you think twice before pitching those leftovers.
Winter Vegetable Hash
Click here to print this recipe
Time to prepare: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons oil, or even better- bacon drippings
1 medium onion, ½” dice
2 garlic cloves, pressed or diced
3-4 small mushrooms, ¼” dice
3 cups winter vegetables, ¼” dice (I used ½ of a delicata squash, and 1 large parsnip, both peeled)
3 medium potatoes, ¼” dice (no need to peel)
1 bunch winter greens, roughly chopped (I used kale here, but any hearty green will work)
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
Zest from a lemon or orange (optional)
Heat a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat.
Add the oil and heat until shimmering, then add the onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the rest of the vegetables, and toss. Season with salt and pepper generously. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, until they start to brown. Using a smaller heavy lid or skillet, press down on the hash. Keep it weighted down for the remainder of cooking – probably 35 minutes, to desired doneness.
When the hash is done, check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Push the hash to the sides of the pan, exposing the browned bottom of the skillet. Pour a scant splash (start with 1 Tablespoon) of chicken stock or water directly onto the brown bits, and scrape with a wooden spatula to loosen. Use the least liquid possible, and deglaze until the bottom of the pan is mostly clean. Stir the hash to distribute the brown bits and any remaining liquid. Add the nutmeg and zest if you like, check the seasoning one last time, and serve warm.
- If you’re in a hurry, you can par-cook the vegetables by steaming, roasting, boiling, or microwaving. Either way, small pieces will cook faster. The most intense flavors take time to develop though, so cooking them from start to finish in the skillet is preferable.
- Depending on the vegetables that you use, you may want to add them to the skillet at different times. For instance, bell peppers cook quickly, so you may want to add them when the potatoes are farther along in the cooking process to avoid totally mushy peppers.
- To reheat, warm with in a skillet over medium-high heat to try to cultivate browning since the hash inevitably softened overnight.