Listed below are recent posts across all of CalRecyle's blogs.

  • Package-Free Salad Dressing

    As CalRecycle’s Executive Fellow, I have learned the intimate details of waste management in California and have seen firsthand what our discarded waste looks like at material recovery facilities (MRFs) across the state. I know that Californians produced 76.5 million tons of waste in 2016. But standing on the floor of a MRF and seeing the trucks unload tons of material was honestly alarming to witness.  I have made it my mission to reduce my consumption of packaging, which accounts for a quarter of the waste generated in California. As a former chef, food packaging is an easy place for me to start cutting back on my own waste generation.

    Salad dressing is commonly sold in packaging at the grocery store, but here’s the secret: it is shockingly easy to make at home, and so much cheaper than purchasing it in the store. Making your own salad dressing eliminates the purchasing of packaging, plus, when you make it at home you have complete control over the ingredients.

    As a former restaurant cook, I know that cooking is all about ratios, and the best example of that is a vinaigrette salad dressing recipe. The basic ratio formula for a vinaigrette dressing is 1 part vinegar or acid to 3 or 4 parts oil.

    Choosing your oil

    While you could use any cooking oil you like, a neutral tasting oil is your best bet for a vinaigrette dressing. You do not want to overwhelm the other flavors in your salad. I usually opt for half extra virgin olive oil (a stronger-tasting oil) with half regular olive oil, canola, or vegetable oil (neutral-tasting oils).

    Choosing your vinegar or acid

    Pick any tasty vinegar you like. My favorites to use in salad dressings are rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar. I would advise not using distilled plain white vinegar as the flavor is too harsh for dressing. I also substitute lemon or lime for acid in place of vinegar in a pinch.

    Choosing your seasonings

    Salt and pepper are essential, but I also like adding fresh herbs: cilantro, parsley, and basil are my favorites. Dry herbs work beautifully as well. Mustard is a great addition for a little tang, and I also enjoy some maple syrup or agave for a little sweetness. Garlic or shallot are nice if you mince them into small enough pieces or make your vinaigrette in a blender or food processor.

    Making your vinaigrette dressing

    Oil and vinegar must be emulsified together in order to evenly coat your salad, and there are a number of ways to accomplish this.

    My favorite is simply pouring all my ingredients in a jar, covering the jar with a lid, and shaking vigorously until they are combined.

    If you’re serving a crowd, you could simply combine all your vinaigrette dressing ingredients in a bowl, whisk together, and then add all your salad right on top of it, toss, and serve.

    You could also use a blender or food processor to make your dressing. Simply combine your ingredients except the oil, turn the blender on, and slowly add the oil as the machine is running.

    Homemade vinaigrette dressing is easy and versatile, and when you get the hang of it and discover your preferences, you barely need a recipe.

    Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette dressings:

    Red Wine Vinaigrette (Makes ¾ Cup of Dressing) 

    Ingredients

    • 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
    • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
    • ¼ cup canola or other neutral oil
    • 1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
    • ½ of a small shallot, finely minced
    • 1-2 teaspoons fresh oregano, basil, or parsley (dried Italian seasoning or oregano works great too)
    • 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Optional: honey or agave to sweeten, to taste

    Directions

    1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl or jar. If using a food processor or blender, add all ingredients except the oils
    2. Mix or stir vigorously. If using a food processor or blender, turn on the machine and slowly add the oil while the machine is running to emulsify the dressing.
    3. Taste and adjust your seasonings, adding salt and pepper.
    4. Serve and enjoy immediately or store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
    Posted on In the Loop by Allegra Curiel on Aug 30, 2018

  • Package-Free Hummus

    Since coming to CalRecycle as an Executive Fellow and learning more about waste management in California, I have been more thoughtful about the waste I create in my own life. Packaging represents about one quarter of California’s waste stream, and   China’s current policy to limit or prohibit recyclable material imports is changing how recycling works in California. Recyclable materials that once had robust market demand are increasingly difficult to manage in the state.

    In fact, the City of Sacramento, where I live and where CalRecycle headquarters are located, recently announced it is no longer accepting #4-7 plastic in its curbside recycling program. As a result, I am rethinking my consumer choices.

    I am a big fan of hummus, a creamy dip made from chickpeas, garlic, lemon, olive oil, and tahini. Hummus is delicious just with these simple five ingredients, but it is also versatile and tastes fantastic with the addition of spices like cumin or paprika. I’ve even heard of folks blending steamed beets into their hummus for amazing flavor and color. I eat my hummus with carrots, with delicious farmers market cucumbers, spread on toast, and with crackers.

    Prior to becoming a CalRecycler, I would generally purchase hummus weekly at the grocery store in a plastic tub without thinking much about what would happen to that plastic tub once I was done with it.  Luckily for me (and for you!), I recently discovered it’s super easy to make from scratch.

    Here is my easy, versatile, delicious, and plastic-packaging-free hummus recipe. I skip the packaging altogether, purchase my chickpeas in bulk, and cook them in my pressure cooker, but if you’re strapped for time, canned chickpeas work great too. I also make my own tahini, which is a toasted sesame seed condiment and is crucial for making hummus. Tahini is available premade if you don’t want to take the extra step.

    Package-Free Hummus

    Ingredients

    • 2 cup chickpeas, cooked and drained (or 1 15-ounce can)
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons tahini
    • 1.5 tablespoons lemon juice (about half a lemon), plus more as needed
    • 1 garlic clove
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Equipment

    • Food processor or blender
    • Rubber spatula
    • Strainer or colander
    • Measuring cups and spoons

    Instructions

    1. Drain and rinse your chickpeas. Make sure to reserve some of the bean liquid for thinning out the hummus later, if necessary.
    2. Combine the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper in the food processor or blender.
    3. Blend the ingredients and slowly add in the olive oil while the food processor or blender is running.
    4. Blend up to five minutes, stopping to scrape down the side of the food processor or blender with a rubber spatula if necessary.
    5. Taste and adjust seasonings. You can also add your reserved chickpea water and blend again if you feel like the hummus is too thick.
    6. Transfer to bowl and serve! You can add any additional seasonings you would like. I enjoy some smoked paprika, cumin, and a drizzle of olive oil on top.
    7. Enjoy!
    Posted on In the Loop by Allegra Curiel on Aug 27, 2018

  • Plastic-Free DIY Produce Bags

    As CalRecycle’s Executive Fellow, I have been learning a lot about waste management here in California. It’s been an eye-opening experience to learn just how much waste Californians produce: 76.5 million tons in 2016 alone. With my newfound knowledge, I have been making a deliberate effort to reduce my own environmental impact and limit my use of single-use plastics and disposable packaging.

    Although California banned the distribution of single-use carryout bags in grocery stores in 2016, the law does not prohibit the distribution of all plastic bags. I still see plastic produce bags widely available at grocery stores. Even at the local farmers markets in Sacramento, I get offered a plastic bag for my produce at every stall I visit. I used to wash and reuse my plastic produce bags, but since coming to CalRecycle I have made an effort to be more thoughtful about what materials I choose to utilize and purchase.

    With that in mind, I decided to make my own cloth produce bags. For my fabric, I bought pillowcases from a local thrift store—an inexpensive and recycled material! Another great thing about using pillowcases is that there are finished seams already sewn in, so you can simply stich up one or two sides by hand, with no sewing machine required. If you are unsure how to hand-sew, there are plenty of helpful tutorials available for free on YouTube.

    Plastic Free DIY Produce Bags, Adapted from Zero Waste Chef

    Supplies

    • Pillowcases
    • Needle and thread
    • Fabric scissors

    Directions 

    1. Cut the pillowcase into four equal rectangles. Try not to worry if they aren’t perfectly even.
    2. Your four rectangles should each have at least one finished seam. Simply pick which side you want the opening to be, and sew up the remaining sides.
    3. Visit your local farmers market or grocery store, sporting your new, plastic-free produce bag!

    It’s that easy! There are many more tutorials available online if you want to get creative and add extra features to your produce bags such as drawstrings and carrying straps.

    Posted on In the Loop by Allegra Curiel on Aug 23, 2018