By Carey Denman
Some recent number crunching confirmed my nagging suspicion: we are once again breaking our monthly food budget. In fact, a closer look revealed that our spending has gone up incrementally during the first four months of this year.
On one hand, hearing my husband rattle off those numbers made me cringe. On the other, it reaffirmed that I want to be more diligent than ever about avoiding food waste. After all, if I suggested you withdraw $100 in small bills from your bank account and drop them one by one into the trash, you’d think I’d lost my mind. Yet when we waste food, that’s essentially what we’re doing.
Avoiding food waste lets me be a good manager of what I have and helps save me money. Still, little to no food waste is only possible with a lot of diligence and creativity. So I am publicly declaring myself as a kitchen vigilante with this pledge: I will do all within my power to ensure I use the food I have. I will not be deterred by the likes of stale bread or languishing apples. I will resourcefully repurpose the food in my kitchen to create delicious and satisfying meals.
You might be wondering if the words “delicious and satisfying” can rest comfortably alongside “resourcefully repurpose.” Can using up bits of leftovers and past-its-prime food actually result in something worth preparing—and more importantly—eating? I believe the answer is unequivocally “yes.”
With a little practice, you can transform all of your kitchen bits into something better. A good place to start is by learning the many uses for stale bread. Who hasn’t had slices of bread or bagels that have lingered a bit too long?
Bread crumbs, croutons and stuffing are all common uses for stale bread. I’m much more likely to cube it and throw it in a freezer bag to use for dishes sweet and savory: egg strata, baked French toast, or bread pudding. A strata is particularly good use for old bread, and you can toss in other foods you need to use up, as well. Leftover vegetables, small amounts of meat, and a variety of cheeses are all good compliments to strata.
Fresh produce is another kitchen staple that seems to spoil faster than I can use it. I’ve gotten in the habit of freezing overripe bananas in their skins for smoothies, breads, and muffins. If berries get mushy, I throw them in the freezer, too, or I use them to make syrup for pancakes or waffles. Grapes that have softened can be frozen and used for snacks. We’ve also been known to grate mealy apples for muffins, pancakes, and oatmeal or to sauté slices with a little butter and brown sugar for a tasty side dish.
Soured milk generally works well as a replacement for buttermilk in baked goods such as pancakes and biscuits. Single servings of yogurt that are approaching their expiration dates can be thrown into the freezer and eaten later; the result is similar to sorbet. Leftover rice can be used in soups, to make fried rice or for rice pudding. Small servings of pasta can be used in frittatas, while the extra spaghetti you have hanging around in the fridge can be reinvented into a baked dish; just add ingredients such as cured meat, sun-dried tomatoes and a strong cheese, like fresh parmesan.
With some creativity, nearly any food you have on hand (unless it has spoiled) can be transformed into a recipe that will make you wonder why you ever thought of throwing that food away in the first place.