Monday, April 21, 2014

Use It or Lose It: Thrifty Kitchen Tips

By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

I grew up with a plaque above our kitchen table that my mother cross-stitched by hand. It said, "Waste Not, Want Not," and it was no joke. This mantra was pounded into me from a young age, and I still try to keep it in mind now that I've got a kitchen (and home) of my own.

Let's face it, almost all of us buy some food that we never get around to finishing. It's actually a colossal waste. America loses a whopping 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill, according to a report by the National Resources Defense Council. This translates to $165 billion in food rotting away in landfills. In our homes specifically, we throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and drink that we buy, which costs a family of four approximately $1,365 to $2,275. You could take a vacation with all that money!

In honor of tomorrow's celebration of Earth Day, here are some of my favorite things to do with food that's about to go by in the fridge...

  • Once the peels dry out, eating that orange or grapefruit as a snack becomes a whole lot less appealing. What to do? Juice it! A simple handheld juicer turns old-ish citrus into the most delicious juice you can imagine within seconds! (I like this one by Pampered Chef, which gets a lot of juice and is dishwasher safe.) Drink it straight, mix it with seltzer for a healthy soda, or use it to make a tasty cocktail (mimosas, anyone??).
  • If lime and lemon juice is a bit tart for your taste buds, add a tablespoon or two to soups and stir fries just before serving to perk up the flavor. You can often keep the juice in a container in the fridge for a few days or longer.
Citrus Rinds
  • Before you toss that citrus rind in the compost, use it to make your stainless steel sparkle. Sprinkle the sink with a bit of baking soda, then rub it with the cut side of a lemon (as if it's a bristle brush). Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing away. 
  • Squeeze a wedge of rind into a glass and cover it with plain seltzer for a refreshing drink.
  • If the citrus rind is still fresh and happy, use a microplane grater to grate the zest to flavor dishes (add them at the end of cooking), baked goods, and tea.
  • Maybe they're getting a little over-ripe or you ended up with more than you needed (a common scenario in summertime). Core larger tomatoes (cherry tomatoes can be left whole), put it in a zip-lock freezer bag, and stick it in the freezer. That's it! You can pull them out to toss into soups. Just throw them in whole - they'll break up as they simmer. If you run it under warm water first, you can easily wipe off the peel. If you want to chop it up, just let it thaw a tiny bit under the water, than use a good knife to break it up. Perfect for sauces and soups! So much easier than canning, too.
  •  Another easy treat is to cut tomatoes into 1/8-inch slices (or cut cherries in half), lay them on a dehydrator tray, and sprinkle them with a little salt, pepper, and oregano. Dehydrate them til they're crisp. These are a great savory, crunchy snack, and you can also soak them in olive oil or water to use them like sun-dried tomatoes in recipes.
  • Day-old (or even week-old) bread makes great toast, first and foremost. Keep it the fridge to  slow the mold process.
  • You can also use it to make French toast.
  • Stale bread can be drizzled with oil and spices and baked into homemade croutons or stuffing.
  • My mom used to save rock-hard stale bread in a paper bag and then run it through a food mill or meat grinder to turn it into bread crumbs.
  •  Is that bunch of kale beginning to wilt and yellow? Maybe the arugula is getting past its prime? Tossing it into a cooked dish will make short work of it since greens cook down to hardly anything. But here are some other tricks.
  • Toss it in the juicer with some sweeter things like oranges, carrots, or apples.
  • Break it into pieces, rub it with olive oil, season with salt and pepper (and whatever else you like - we add red pepper flakes) and bake it in the oven at about 350°F. Kale chips are particularly awesome, especially the curly varieties.
Chickpeas & Other Beans
  • Drain the chickpeas, put them in a pan, sprinkle with oil, salt, pepper, and seasonings (I like a combo of turmeric, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and coriander) and bake them at about 400°F, stirring occasionally, until they are golden and crisp. That lingering can of chickpeas will be gone in minutes! 
  • Toss them in a food processor with olive oil and seasonings of your choice - maybe also some lemon juice and tahini to make hummus. This works well with white beans and Italian seasoning or black beans and Mexican seasoning for a healthy dip.
  • It's quiche or frittata time!
  • For a more decadent and involved approach, you can turn a dozen eggs into an angel food cake (whites) and pound cake (yolks).
  • Beet chips disappear quickly! Peel and slice beets into thin slices or matchsticks, drizzle with oil (no other seasonings or even salt is needed), and bake in the oven at 400 degrees, tossing frequently, until crisp but not burnt. You can also try dehydrating them into chips instead of roasting them.
  • Slice up fresh beets and pickle them in a combination of water (you can use beet cooking water, if you have it), vinegar, and whatever seasonings you like. Or follow this recipe.
  • Play around with home fermentation!
Nuts & Seeds
  • Store them in the freezer, and they will last for months or longer!
  • Grind them up to make nut butters, gluten-free flour, etc.
 Hot Peppers
  • Got an abundance? Just toss them in a freezer bag, get out as much air as you can, and store them in the freezer for later use. To use, just run them  under a little warm water, and then they will slice up easily to add directly to dishes. (Once they totally thaw, they are a bit mushy and more awkward to slice.) We eat garden-fresh hot peppers year round!
  • My mum loves to turn an excess of hot peppers into hot pepper jelly to give as gifts or serve over warm brie or cream cheese with crackers at parties.
 Apples & Pears
  • Make applesauce (it's sooo easy), which you can freeze or can. And if *that* sticks around for too long, then smear it on a fruit leather tray (or wax paper) and dehydrate that into fruit leathers that will be gobbled up in minutes.
  • Dehydrate 1/8-inch slices for snacks. I like to sprinkle some with cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Slice and freeze it for baked goods later on. I find that you often don't even need to peel it.
Potato Peels
  • Rub the peels in a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 350-400°F, tossing occasionally, until crispy. I like to add fresh or dry rosemary when they are almost done cooking. 

Last Ditch Efforts

Do you deem it inedible? At least skip the trash can, and try this:
  •  Backyard chickens will gobble up most almost-past-their-prime treats, but don't give them anything that's actually gone bad or moldy. They can eat almost everything mentioned in this article, but check this list for other foods that you should not feed chickens (like onions, potatoes, avocado pits, and, well, poultry). My chickens even eat crushed up egg shells and cooked fish heads, as well as kale stems, lettuce butts, and other kitchen scraps.
  • Compost just about anything except a lot of meat or oil. Don't have an outside pile? Try worm bin composting.
I hope that gives you some fresh takes on old food in the kitchen!

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