Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kitchen Keeping Tips #5 -- Waste Not, Want Not

I just finished reading a long thread on the Chowhound boards about culinary gems that usually get thrown away. It was a great reminder to me to return to my blog and continue the Kitchen Keeping series with a post about using everything in your kitchen.

To me, frugality is, in large part, about stewardship. My desire is to make the best possible use of the things I buy, so when I shop, I think in terms of how I can use up every item, true -- but throwing food away is not the only issue! Anyone on a budget hates throwing away food. My previous posts on planning and shopping can help you cut down on (or even eliminate) food waste.

But what if you were discarding stuff that you thought of as trash, but that wound up actually being a highly valuable asset to your cooking? Here is a list of things I never throw away:

1. Stale or old bread. Dried out bread (or heels or crusts) should be ground and stored in a bag or canister in the freezer. You can dry it out in a low oven for easier grinding. Dozens of uses: as filler/binder in meatballs, as a crispy coating for any meat, as a thickening agent in soups, etc.

2. Vegetable scraps. Carrot ends, celery leaves, parsley stems, and onion and garlic skins go into my stock bag to be either made into a delicious veggie stock or added to chicken scraps to make a rich chicken stock. If you're just making a veggie stock, you can add any other kind of veggie scraps you have on hand. I wouldn't add potato peels, but other than that, the sky's the limit. Also, re-think what "scraps" are. Don't toss radish tops, use them like you would any other green. Don't throw away broccoli stems, peel them and thinly slice or shred to add to stir fries or salads.

3. Bones. Seriously, if you roast a chicken or use bone-in chicken parts or have a ham with a bone or beef or pork ribs or anything else with a bone in it, for the love of flavorful cooking, do NOT throw those things away!! Even if you don't have the time to use it right away, at least put it in the freezer and mark your calendar. If you have beef or pork bones, toss them in a vegetable soup to add richness (not to mention nutrition!). If you have chicken bones or a whole carcass, throw that in a pot with your veggie scraps (along with skin and, if you're lucky and you have a good chicken, the neck and innards), cover with water and simmer for a few hours, and you'll have the most delicious stock you ever tasted! If you have a ham bone, put it into a pot with any kind of beans, some carrot and onion, and let it simmer all day. You'll be amazed at how much flavor you can get from something most of us would just throw out.

4. Cereal. Almost any kind of cereal can be used to make muffins, and there are dozens of good recipes online. Yesterday I made honey-walnut-banana muffins because I had a couple cups of Kashi cereal sitting around, four black bananas in my freezer, and a few tablespoons of walnuts languishing in a bowl on my counter. Something I would have otherwise pitched out became my breakfasts for this week AND next week!

5. Milk. People: ignore, forget about, and reject the date on your milk carton, ok? The milk I put in my tea on Friday was three and a half weeks past the date, and it was just as sweet and fresh as the day I bought it. Here is the trick: every time you get milk out of the fridge, give it a quick shake before you put it back. It will last a good month past the date on the carton, easily. And if you forget to shake it for a few days and the last of the jug goes sour, bake something. Sour milk is perfect for biscuits, scones, cakes, pancakes, even homemade bread.

Next up: a fun new project...

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