Imperfect produce

I’ve been on a mission to reduce waste. The biggest problem I see is not just in my home but everywhere I go here in America – the land of opportunities. Isn’t it ironic that we call this beautiful country, a land of opportunities and yet waste every opportunity given to reduce waste? Ever since I came to the US, I’ve watched tons of documentaries about the atrocities farmers have to go through because of unreasonable standards set by grocers around the country. I have looked high and low for options to buy produce that are literally shredded as waste just because they don’t look perfect. Mind you, this is not just a problem of the US. This problem plagues every part of the world. Just the other day, I watched a video of a farmer in India spraying some chemical to make produce look richer than they normally do. Why must everything look instagram-ready?

This thought stuck around and one fine day, I had this video going around in my facebook feed about a company called “Imperfect produce”. The concept is simple. They take the imperfect produce and resell it to you. I was instantly taken. I spoke about this with my husband who also instantly said “let’s support them. it’s a great opportunity to tackle this problem that we have.” And so the day I got back from my trip, I immediately subscribed and got my first delivery yesterday. Sitting in a spacious cardboard box were my precious veggies and fruits. I opened up the package like an excited kid opening a toy. I was psyched and itching to see just how imperfect they were. I thought I would be happy on seeing them but it just made me furious at how stupid we have become as human beings (the so-called intelligent species. not so intelligent now eh?). The produce looked perfect. Yes, my grapefruit had a knobbly head and another fruit looked like it may have suffered a little bit of dry skin. But I swear to you, if this is the criteria for what goes in the bin, there is something seriously wrong with this world.

I must take you all back to my first experience of buying veggies. I was maybe around 10 or 11 when my mom asked me to bike to the store at the end of the road and grab a bag of 8 tomatoes. That vivid is my memory. My mom said “Make sure a half of them are firm to the touch and without nail gashes or overly damaged. The other half can be ripe red tomatoes as they will be used in today’s dish”. That is all. Not a word about the shape. The nail gashes I can explain – Many South Indians have this terrible habit of digging their god-knows-where-its-been nails into the flesh to check for firmness. It is the worst way to check for firmness as a simple firm hold of the tomato in your palms with just a touch of  pressure will tell you all you need to know about the longevity of that tomato. Someone needs to teach the people doing the nail digging a thing or two about buying tomatoes. The times were simpler back then. There were tomatoes of all colours, shapes and sizes. Fast forward to a decade later, everything looked uniform and pristine. Retail ready. And fast forward a few more, it is instagram ready.

Coming back to Imperfect produce – This company has really started a revolution and calling out BS in the retail world. We need companies like these who will open up people to treating nature like you would your child. Would you toss your child if it didn’t come out perfect? Just like us, not every piece of fruit or veggie is perfect. We all have our imperfections which is what makes us beautiful. Imperfect produce has tag lines like “I eat ugly because …. ” and “How would you feel if you were a heart-shaped potato”. We shouldn’t have to think this way. The produce I got from them were in no way ugly. And it is sad that just because a few corporations find it difficult to stack the knobbly ones, we end up contributing to food waste. The retail corporations say it is the people who prefer the shiny ones. I’m not so sure. I believe the majority of the problem lies with them wanting to make their jobs easier. It is high time these grocery stores figure out a better way to display the produce and not contribute to waste due to sheer laziness.

Note: If anyone is interested in trying out Imperfect produce, let me know. I can share a link. (No. This is NOT a sponsored post). I’m just passionate about supporting good businesses.

Advertisements

Why Ikea’s Antilop high chair is the best yet!

I’m nearly 8-9 months late on this post. But better late than never! We had been searching for a high chair for the longest time. This was really from the time my daughter was 4 months old. When she completed 5 months, we started her on solids and couldn’t figure out which high chair to buy even though she was sitting perfectly since 2.5 months. We decided to buy a booster seat that we could plonk on the floor or on the kitchen counter for the initial feedings. I think when she was around 9 months, I definitely was desperate to get a high chair as my baby was starting to get jumpy. I was so frustrated with so many options and way too many opinions from anyone and everyone. A friend who was raving about their OXO priced at $400 and then there was this woman I met in gym class who said she loved her Inglesina that attached to the table (again highly priced). With too much information, we were bordering on quitting this journey to find the “perfect” high chair.

Then it happened. I looked at trusty old Ikea’s website. When all else fails, you must always visit Ikea. And there it was with its ugly alien creature-like legs, a bare white seat and a buckle for jokes. Thats it! Priced at $19, I realised even if I went wrong with this one, it wouldn’t hurt the pocket. So off we went, to get our next temporary solution. Only we didn’t realise at the time, that this would be the permanent solution.

The Antilop is such a plain and no-nonsense high chair that goes with practically every decor. And because it is bare, it is just like a canvas and will take any color you throw at it. I have heard parents complain of staining. I haven’t had that happen yet and I am an Indian mom. We cook curry all the time! So if I can swear that there is no staining, then there is no staining. Just be a decent human being and get spills ASAP. Anything like tomatoes, strawberries, curry, blueberry, sauces….. has to be wiped as soon as baby is done with the meal. I use baby wipes for the stubborn stains like blueberry and curry even before they stain as a fool proof method to prevent staining. It is as simple as that.

Now I know no $500 chair can come close to this Antilop. Not your OXOs, not your FPs, not your Stokkes. Babies require restraining of some sort until they are able to eat with discipline. And this chair I hear is perfect for babies until they are 4 or 5. After that my baby can start eating in our dining chair at our dining table like a normal human being.

The grass is not really green on the other side

For the longest time, I’ve heard, read and seen people talk about the superiority of European products over American ones. Plenty of online forums are filled with American moms claiming how much better the French formulas are or the German baby foods are. And I believe many European countries do a great job with their baby foods. But does this mean they are superior to ours? The answer is simply no. I have got news for you mommas out here in the US. I hate to burst your bubble and deter you from hoarding European baby products.

On my recent trip to Europe, I understood that American products are of great quality and they are on par if not better. Even how businesses welcome parents is simply better here. And I must say I, like many others have taken the US for granted. Everything from the cruel acts of genetically modified produce to the washing of eggs protective outer layer in the name of disinfecting has generally given me an impression that our European neighbors are doing it better. But the reality is that they have their own set of quirks. For instance, can you believe they don’t consume fresh milk? It’s a lot of ultra processed stuff that will happily sit on your counter and doesn’t need refriegeration. I will tell you however that their cheeses are way better. We must up our game on that front and go beyond our Americans and pepper jacks.

The US is one of the best destinations in the world for parents with their little ones. Right from how we are treated in public arenas such as restaurants, shopping centers to how even the diapers are is simply of another level. There isn’t a place I would think twice to visit in America. I can blindly pack up my bag and babies bag and start off on a classic American road trip and not worry about whether the stroller would go through. I wouldn’t worry even if I were to take the local train as the train are aligned so well to the platform I wouldn’t have to lift my stroller. Or worry if I can find kid friendly vegetarian friendly options at restaurants. While Europe does have great food all over, there were times we were in restaurants that didn’t have anything vegetarian besides their bread and water.

Having grown up in India, changing my baby anywhere isn’t that big a deal. However, the convenience of having a changing table in just about every restaurant or department store or gas station makes our lives easier. I have had to change my baby in peak winter on bare bathroom floors with no heating or cleanliness more times than I have had access to changing tables in Europe. This is also not to say that the next time you visit, you should travel with your trusty American products. Europe has equally good options and in some cases, better products that are worth trying on your trip. Millions of babies are after all raised on them. I’m just arguing that American moms seeking European products in the US seems like a case of the grass being green on the other side when it is just as green over here.

Pasta in the Instant pot

My pressure cookers have got me cooking more in the kitchen. I made this super easy and deeeelicious pasta in the instant pot today. What’s great about making pasta in the instant pot is that I get this very slightly overcooked pasta (not al dente) which is how I like my pasta and you don’t need to dump all that extra pasta water down the sink. Don’t waste your resources!

Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms (any kind, I used white button) – 4 to 5 large
  • Tomatoes (any kind, I used campari) – 2
  • Garlic cloves – 5 small
  • Chives – 3 to 4 stalks
  • Red pepper flakes – as desired, I put 1/2 tsp
  • Butter – to finish off the sauce; 1 tsp
  • Cheese – your favourite kind; I used a mix of mild cheddar and monterey jack
  • Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp
  • Dried basil – 1 tsp
  • Caper berries – 1 chopped; I wanted to use capers but this is what I had on hand. They both work great in this recipe.
  • Pasta – any kind; I used strozzapreti about 1.5 cups to 2 cups (I eyeballed it. Sorry!)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water
  1. Put the instant pot on saute mode and press until you have select more.
  2. Add a tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Add the garlic. When softened, add the red pepper flakes, chives, dried basil and caper berries. Saute for a few seconds.
  4. Now add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are browned and the oil has separated.
  5. Add the tomatoes. Stir around for 10 secs.
  6. Add your pasta, salt and water to barely cover the pasta. It’s perfectly fine if one or two shells peek through.
  7. Close the lid. Hit cancel and then press pressure cook and adjust time to 6 mins. Select low pressure level.
  8. Open the lid after a natural release.
  9. Hit saute on medium. And add butter to make a luscious sauce. Once that is achieved, hit cancel. Add your cheese. Stir until well combined.
  10. Serve. Drizzle with Evoo. Enjoy!

 

Breville Fast Slow Pro vs Instant Pot Duo Mini

I am now part of that not-so-new food trend – Instant Pot. I had been avoiding the purchase for the longest time (since 2012 exactly) when my mom delivered a sales pitch last year on how life-changing her Breville Fast Slow cooker is. Long story short, I caved in and bought myself a Breville Fast Slow Pro. Fast forward months later, I loved my Breville so much that I wanted to add a mini Breville to completely eliminate rice cookers, manual pressure cookers and quite a few pots from my kitchen altogether. Unfortunately Breville does not make a mini version. So I ended up purchasing the 3 quart Instant Pot Duo Mini that has a bigger fan following and a larger community online.

So here are my thoughts on the two.

Instant Pot 

Pros:

  • Has a delayed start timer (which is awesome for soaking beans and starting up the cooking process when the soaking is done. Totally eliminates soaking in a separate container and remembering to put it in the cooker.)
  • Saute function heats up slightly better than the Breville which is again crucial for the tempering in indian food. I don’t know if its because of the stainless steel or something else. If anyone knows why, I would love to know what it is.
  • Has an exclusive yogurt function. I read somewhere that this function can also be used to ferment idli/dosa batter!
  • Being able to use any ladle in the stainless steel pot
  • Extremely affordable

Cons:

  • This is not too much of a hassle. But the stainless steel can sometimes (if you’re not careful with the heat setting) burn the food at the bottom. This holds true even when cooking on the stove top.
  • Reminds me of the Honda Civic ad “A button for every button”. Ah the buttons! I prefer the Breville’s sleek interface with dials to the buttons
  • That godforsaken warning label on top of the lid (seriously, why would anyone put a hard-to-remove sticker on top of the lid). The lid now has an ugly sticker impression on what should have been sleek and shiny stainless steel. I would appreciate if someone can tell me how to get the residual adhesive impression off the lid.
  • Instant pot does not offer a non stick insert for the 3 quart.

Breville Fast Slow Pro

Pros:

  • Amazing interface, looks classy and very user friendly
  • Love the option to select precisely how much pressure I want instead of a standard high, med and low.
  • The non stick is definitely easier to clean up.

Cons: 

  • Saute function is not as effective as the instant pot.
  • Lack of a delayed timer which can be super useful
  • Breville does not sell stainless steel inserts which should be good from a health perspective.
  • Pricey

On the whole, I would say the Instant Pot is a better option. This is not to say that the Breville is a bad product. The Breville is great and if the looks take high priority, I highly recommend the Breville Fast Slow Pro. The Instant Pot is simply my choice because it is priced just right and gives me all the features I need and more. It is also the healthier pot than the Breville because of the stainless steel. The yogurt and delay start function are good features to have making this a complete product to have in your kitchen.

 

Pestos galore

I am by no means trained in Italian cooking nor do I watch many Italian cooking shows. My love for the carbacious (wait, is that even a word?) pastas and pizzas keep me constantly trying something new. It all began when I bumped into a video on Jamie Oliver’s Youtube Channel featuring the Chiappa Sisters for making a delicious Sage Walnut Pesto. Sage and walnut? What about Basil and Pine nuts? These were the questions running through my mind. Through the simplest of recipes, the Chiappa sisters taught me to let my imagination run wild when it comes to making pesto.

Pesto is one of those incredibly easy sauces to put together. With a good blender and a few fresh staples, you always have access to amazing pesto-type sauces. It wouldn’t be fair to call it pesto. But pesto style is more like it.

During the last couple of weeks, I made two incredibly easy pestos unlike the traditional basil variety. They are just as beautiful and make great weeknight pesto dinners or even for a Sunday brunch.

That's right. We want the creaminess!
This is the Cilantro Cashew Pistachio pasta. That’s right! We want the creaminess! 

Avocado pistachio pesto (one of those recipes that is great for using up old avocados)

1 hass avocado or any buttery variety you may have on hand

Juice of 1 lime (Since this is an avocado pesto, I had to marry the avocado with the lime)

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend the above ingredients except salt in a blender to anything from a coarse to a smooth consistency. Just blend it the way you like it. Add salt once blended and mix. Mix this sauce with hot pasta and garnish with cilantro!

Cilantro Cashew pistachio pesto

Bunch of cilantro leaves

Half a handful of cashewnuts

Half a handful of pistachios

Juice of one lemon

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend these and mix with hot pasta. Garnish with Chipotle pepper.

Would you like some pickle and honey with your pizza?

That’s right. Last night’s dinner was quite interesting. We were suggested by the front desk to go to a restaurant called “Seoga and Cook” in Dongtan’s downtown. It was one of those modern, crisp and clean looking, American-ish restaurants. I ordered a Fanta Grape while K had some German beer. He also ordered some fries that came dusted with paprika, garlic powder and parmesan. The fries were served in different shapes. There was matchstick fries, regular fries and wedges. K had ordered Four Cheese Pizza and I went for a new dish called “Eggtata”. For some reason, K was doing an exaggerated Indian accent while saying the word “Eggtata” and it sounded so hilarious!

Eggtata - Frittata with pilaf
                            Eggtata – Frittata with pilaf

Eggtata is a skillet comprising of Frittata (kind of like a crustless egg quiche or a super duper fluffy omelet), some pilaf in the center (so the frittata beneath the pilaf gets pretty much flattened out like an omelet) and a fried egg on top drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It’s finished up like a regular frittata in the oven. I had a “kimchi pilaf eggtata” which had kimchi pilaf in the center. Kimchi pilaf tasted a lot like spicy fried rice made with pilaf rice. I was so not ready for this dish to be honest. Just the idea of all that eggy action for dinner seemed a bit much and I was not sure how a frittata would combine with kimchi to make one fabulous dish.

So when our main dishes arrived, the waitress walks up to us and offers us some pickle in a small cup. Pickled veggies for what? I assumed since I was eating my kimchi pilaf, they gave pickle to go with the Eggtata. I called the waitress using a handy device called the waiter button. Why does the rest of the world not have it? It is a small button that can be used to call the waitress. So you don’t have to raise your hand or repeat “excuse me” like a million times before you get the waitress’s attention. Just press the button and boom! there’s your waitress.

This is definitely one of the coolest gadgets I've come across in recent times
This is definitely one of the coolest gadgets I’ve come across in recent times

The waitress told me we had to eat the pickle with the pizza. Our jaws dropped on hearing that. We had never heard of this combination. I had read earlier that Korean pizzas can be quite different from the rest of the world. Sure enough, we did find some really surprising combinations on the menu last night. For example, there was one with sweet potato and blueberry. I could not fathom most of what I had seen in my imagination. But pickle with pizza was a whole other deal. When the waitress went back to her work, K point blank refused to try pickle with pizza. Being quite the explorer, I was curious and had a bite of the pizza with the pickle. It’s interesting…. It’s interesting but I don’t think I can do it again.

Pickle and Pizza?
Pickle and Pizza?

Then came my Eggtata. I was so weirded out to see so much eggy action going on. Fried egg on top of a dozen eggs? I was so skeptical. I cut up a chunk of eggtata and served it up on my plate. The first bite into it was …. deeelicious! You cannot look at eggtata in the same way as frittata. If you do, you would probably be skeptical as I was until that first bite when you change your mind and you go, now that’s something new and something truly amazing! It was super delicious. The eggs or the frittata part wasn’t flooded with italian herbs which is what I think made the frittata pair well with the kimchi pilaf. On the whole, I was satisfied. I obviously could not finish even 1/4th of what was served.

Tastes even better than it looks!
Tastes even better than it looks!

As K and I were almost getting done with dinner, I noticed a small cup of something that looked like oil. I called the waitress who told me Koreans usually dip pizza in some honey. Again, the jaw drop happened. I could not believe what I was hearing. Koreans have truly made pizza their own. It’s not the italian or the american italian style you would have eaten at so many places. It’s different and it’s quite the experience.

So my question is: Would you like some pickle and honey with your pizza?