How to Be a Sustainable Cook in Five Easy Pieces

Please note, this is a guest blog post from Head Spear of Purple Asparagus(TM), Melissa Graham*

It’s a New Year and I’m sure that many of you have resolved to green up your life. Recycling and replacing old products with energy efficient ones are fine first steps, but the place in our homes that we can have the biggest impact is in our kitchens.  For the past six years, I’ve been educating children, families, and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet through my Chicago-based non-profit, Purple Asparagus.  Doing this has taught me a thing or two about being green so I wanted to share my top five tips for being more sustainable in your kitchen.

1. Love your veggies. Like or not, being a more sustainable consumer means consuming less meat. Regardless of how well the animals are raised (and I’ll talk about this in a minute), the American appetite for flesh is unsustainable. Take this opportunity to celebrate the tremendous diversity of vegetables. On my blog, Little Locavores, I have a ton of veggie recipes, ones that even kids will eat!

2. Be flexible. When you go off the grid of industrial eating, things can get a little weird. A carrot isn’t always a carrot – it could be a Thumbelina or a Sugarsnax – it could be huge like a small stick or tiny like your thumb. As a local eater, you need to go with the flow. Decide on your menu after you return from the market, not before. When you taste the delectable variety of what’s out there, you’ll be happy you did.

3. Buy Better Meat. Yes, I’m back to the meat. Call me a broken record, but if there’s one single change that you can make to become a more sustainable eater, it would to be buy meat that’s raised humanely without unnecessary antibiotics and growth hormones. As I’ve written before here, this isn’t simply a matter of personal health, but an imperative if we want to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics in disease prevention.

4. Take the Trash to Table Challenge. A year ago, I issued the Trash to Table Challenge. Once upon a time, we knew how to be frugal. When food was expensive, our ancestors used every edible part of the plants and animals that they brought into their kitchens. Then food became cheap and time dear, and we all became wasteful. Let’s rethink our garbage can and compost bin as the last resort. Got herb stems? Throw them inside a chicken that you’re roasting. Got vegetable scraps, make stock. Create recipes that transform your trimmings, scraps, and leftovers into delicious dishes. In this vein, I’ll share with you my recipe for Mushroom Braised Beef, which I made with the Mushroom Broth made from a bagful of frozen mushroom stems.

5. Give yourself a break. While I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s 100% sustainable, it sure isn’t me. I do my best, but to live in the real world means that I falter every once in a while. When you do, don’t get frustrated. It’s a process and I believe that once you get into the habit, and realize how easy and delicious being a sustainable cook can be, you’ll only want to do more.

Mushroom Braised Beef
6 servings

2 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek, trimmed and sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 carrot, sliced (save trimmings for stock)
1 celery, sliced
1 thyme sprig
1 parsley sprig
1 bay leaf
2 cups mushroom stock
2 cups beef broth
½ pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Mix together flour, salt, and pepper to taste in a shallow bowl. Coat the roast with the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven or slow cooker insert over medium-high heat. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium, add butter and cook leek, carrot, and celery until softened. Pour in the mushroom stock, broth, and add thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Cook over low heat or on the slow cooker for several hours, between 4 and 6 hours or until very tender. Remove the meat to a bowl and refrigerate. Strain the sauce into another bowl and refrigerate overnight. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan and cook ½ of the mushrooms. Repeat with remaining ½. Remove the fat at the top, reserving a tablespoon. Heat the tablespoon in a medium saucepan and add flour stirring until the flour is lightly browned. Whisk in sauce until it thickens. Add the beef and sauteed mushrooms and cook until heated through. Serve on mashed potatoes, turnips, or noodles.

* Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to educating families about all things associated with good eating, eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Purple Asparagus teaches families and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets in Chicago’s neediest communities. Melissa also founded and leads Growing Healthy Kids, a coalition of thirty plus Chicagoland organizations dedicating to promoting child wellness. Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Little Locavores and as a regular contributor to Kiwi Magazine’s KiwiLog. In recognition of her contributions to the Chicago community, the Chicago Tribune recently awarded her a 2011 Good Eating Award. When she’s not in the kitchen or the classroom, you can often find Melissa shopping at Green City Market where she serves as the membership chair. She resides in Chicago with her husband and 7-year old son in a rowhouse built in 1896.

Disclosure Statement

This is a personal blog written by Melissa Graham. Sears did not compensate her to write this blog or to say particular things in it. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely her own.

For information on sustainability initiatives at Sears Holdings, visit our Environmental Sustainability website[KJC1] and follow @EnviroSears on Twitter.


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