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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Waste not, want not

I have been dying to get back here and write some long and involved bit of culinary wisdom, or some funny anecdote about my life as a Mom, daughter, volunteer, sex kitten (part-time), domestic engineer. But the actual Moming, daughtering, volunteering, sex-kitten thing got in the way. I'd like to say my duties as a domestic engineer got in the way too, but frankly, you'd just have to look at my house to know that ain't true.


So today I am going to write about something near and dear to my heart recently and that is making sure you do not waste food. Food is a pretty big part of my limited budget and nothing irks me more than having to throw away my hard earned money with food that has gone past its prime.

The biggest things that go bad for me are fruits and vegetables. I have very little time to write today, so this post will focus on the vegetables and the next one will be about fruit. *Note: I have never had any ice cream go bad.

My best tips for preventing food waste are:

• Make a list, not only of what you need to buy, but also how you are going to use it. So you need to make a menu for the week, noting what side dishes you are making to go with what. Try to use your most perishable veggies first, but be flexible, if that broccoli is starting to "bloom" early (it develops a yellow color) then use it up quick.

• Make substitutions. Tonight's dinner was going to be chicken and rice plus broccoli and squash, but oh look a tomato is going bad (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes bad!) and needs to be used up. Cut off the bad spot and chop it up into the rice side dish. Chopping it and adding salt helps break it down and by the time it has cooked with the rice it merely becomes a flavoring agent for the rice. Good times.

* Make soup/stock. I have a freezer full of old bones. No, I am not a serial killer with grisly trophies (but you know I totally would be on Criminal Minds). I just love to make stocks. I therefore have LABELLED ziploc freezer bags of chicken and beef bones and very occasionally fish bones and crustacean shells (shrimp and lobster mostly). Now to these animal parts one must add vegetables. Do you have wilted celery? Put it in the freezer. When you cut off the tops of the onion, put it, skin and all into the freezer, more garlic than you can use all at one time? It freezes beautifully. Very pungent vegetables, like broccoli or asparagus get frozen in separate bags also LABELLED for use in what I call the "Great Green Soup" (featured elsewhere on the site, keyword green soup).

* Make a meal of them. If you find yourself, late in the week with a bevy of quickly aging produce, make fajitas or stir-fry or even a casserole or two. Cook finely shredded carrots into a tomato sauce, chop zucchini into zucchini bread, roast an entire pan of assorted vegetables with sea salt and olive oil.

* Make a rescue attempt. Sad, wilted greens can be briefly revived using the scientific principle of turgor pressure. Basically those lettuce leaves have dried out in your refrigerator. Give them a brief rinse and set them stalks down in a large container of ice water that you have dosed with a liberal slug of white vinegar. They will be perky and presentable in 20 minutes or less. Then spin dry or pat dry the leaves and serve yourself a great big salad that night.

* Make compost. Sometimes despite our best efforts, stuff goes bad. Return it to the earth by starting a simple compost pile. I had one on my balcony that was completely contained in a large rubbermaid tote. Besides vegetable matter I added egg shells and coffee grounds, plant clippings, shredded newspapers, paper towels, grass cuttings and the like. I was rewarded with dark rich compost for my container garden. You can also google search for how to start your own "vermiculture" composter (worms) and something intriguing I read about called a "bokashi" bucket.

Vegetables are cheap and abundant this time of year, so take advantage and buy up your summer favorites. This summer I am going to be investigating some home canning options, (yay strawberry jam!) and maybe even parching my own sweet corn. Wish me luck and I will keep you posted.