Here’s another installment of my ‘S’ series, with today’s theme being ‘saving,’ meaning that saving every ingredient equals saving your money.
My kitchen DVR is full of cooking shows (and episodes of General Hospital, I think my mom was a soap opera user while I was in the womb, I’m addicted like a crack-baby!) and some of my favorite TV chefs had two really great quotes/ideas on this topic that stuck in my penny-pinching mind. Perhaps my favorite personality on FoodNetwork is Anne Burrell and on her ‘Secrets of a Restaurant Chef’ show she always mentions that in both her home and her restaurant if she paid for an ingredient, she is going to get every bit of flavor and use out of it before she throws it away. In concert with Chef Anne’s idea, Melissa D’Arabian once said on ‘Ten Dollar Dinners’ something to the effect of: “The most expensive ingredient is the one you throw away.” Good food for thought, huh?
Having zero waste in the kitchen is impossible, we all have had our disasters that simply didn’t ‘turn out’ which got thrown out or given to the dog. I had one particularly bad incident with discount chicken from an Asian market, in which my fireman spent a few bites pretending the meat wasn’t ‘off’ before I tried some then immediately began snatching our plates away and ordering a pizza. But, failed experiments aside, there’s no excuse for letting perfectly good ingredients go bad; to me it’s like the difference between making a risky investment that doesn’t end up panning out and just flushing your money straight down the toilet, in the first case, at least you tried! If I have something in the fridge that needs to be utilized in a hurry there are lots of alternatives to tossing it in the garbage. I would much rather find a way to extend its life by freezing or preserving it, or even going out to buy more groceries to make a dish around it, rather than throw it away.
- Any sort of good vegetable scraps, like onions, carrots or celery, go into a gallon zipper bag in my freezer for making stock and any ‘not so fresh’ looking vegetable scraps go into my compost bin. Although I do want to do right by the environment, I see all those scraps as money put towards nourishing my next years’ garden.
- Animal bones, cooked or uncooked, can be made into stock with your saved veggies. Many stock recipes call for browning bones in the oven before using them, and there’s even a fancy French term, ‘remoulage,’ for using an already cooked bone for making stock.
- Any type of bread that is going stale can become croutons, bread pudding or breadcrumbs.
- Coffee grounds also go into the compost, and leftover coffee gets saved until I have enough for coffee ice cream, grown up coffee milkshakes, tirimisu, or red-eye gravy.
- Milk that’s about to expire is great for making yogurt, creamy soups and sauces and an un-ending number of baked goods.
- As for cheese, rinds of hard cheeses add depth and flavor to soups and creamy sauces, just remember to take them out before you serve. Also the government says that if there’s mold on your cheese it’s absolutely okay to just cut the moldy part off, you better bet that’s what restaurants do.
- See, the list is endless!
Pretty much everything that’s organic is put to use until its bitter end in my kitchen, and I learned from the best. In Tuscany, my adopted Nonna scolded me many a time for going to throw something away or even into the compost. Some scraps went to the chickens, who knew that laying hens love watermelon rinds and tomato skins? Used pasta water was never put down the drain, it went into the pig’s trough! Sometimes the ‘frugal’ culture feels more disconnected here in the US, since hardly anyone is still alive who struggled through the Great Depression, but in the ‘Old Country’ it is still in living memory the times when Italy was occupied by Nazis and parents were scavenging in the hills for chestnuts and mushrooms so their children wouldn’t starve. That’s not to say that American’s don’t struggle to put food on the table or have food security issues anymore, there’s a huge current crisis with ever changing government food assistance programs and urban food deserts; it would certainly change my perspective if I had to put my (hypothetical) kids on a bus with me for 45 minutes each way just to get to a store that even sold fresh vegetables. So, before you put anything that you paid for in the trash, be thankful that you have that option and make damn sure you can’t find some use for it.
Saving money and making sure you aren’t letting good food go to waste doesn’t have to be depressing, or a guilt trip about bad times and the less fortunate, I try and think of it as a game pitting my little dollars and my clever mind against the grocery stores. And let me tell you, winning that game is freaking great! To me, it feels like putting someone in checkmate when you only started with a handful of checkers pieces.
Making and Storing Home Made Vegetable Stock – If you save your scraps in the freezer from your daily cooking, this one is $0 F-R-E-E!
- One large zipper bag of vegetable scraps and trimmings – good scraps are onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers, mushroom stems, tomato, garlic, leeks… pretty much anything!
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- large pot or stock pot
- small sauce pot
- fine strainer
- ice cube tray or jars or plastic storage containers.
Put the veggies, bay leaves and peppercorns in the pot and fill to cover with water.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, continue to simmer uncovered for 30 -45 minutes, the liquid will be brown and smell lovely. Now you have regular vegetable stock that will be good for 1-2 weeks.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have room to store 12 cups of stock in my fridge and I might not use it all within a few weeks. For me, the next step is turning the stock into concentrated stock, which you can store much easier in jars in your fridge or freezer, or in cubes in the freezer for easy portioning.
Put the small sauce pot on another burner on medium heat and ladle scoops of hot vegetable stock though the strainer and into the small sauce pot. Let the small pot come to a boil. As the level of liquid in the pot drops, keep straining in stock into the small pot until your full large pot of stock fits entirely into the smaller pot, approximately 2 cups. Let the concentrated stock cool a bit then pour into the ice cube tray or into jars, then put in the fridge or freezer. If you use the ice cube method, when the cubes of stock are frozen pop them out of the tray and put the cubes in a labeled container in the freezer, ready to go whenever you need them!
One cube (about 2 Tbs, if you’re keeping the concentrated stock in the fridge) equals the flavor of 1 cup of regular strength stock.
If you want to make meat stock, you can use the exact same procedure, just add your bones. Chicken stock will need to simmer for 1-2 hours. Beef or ham stock will need to simmer for 2-4 hours. If you don’t have the time, you can simmer your stock in the slow cooker while you’re out and about too.