5 - 2008

Thrifty kitchen: Use it up!

With all the headlines screaming recession, I expect I’m not alone in taking a look around the house and wondering where we can tighten the belt. The kitchen is a great place to start. Here are some things we’ve done recently to use up odds and ends, reducing our kitchen waste.

1. Making stock from scraps. I wrote about this in January, but it’s still valid.

2. Bananas. Sometimes we eat the first three and the others sit there turning black. Of course, the classic solution is banana bread. I used some pretty black bananas to do just that this weekend. My daughter and husband averted their eyes, and Mr. Cheap claimed to recoil from the ripe smell, but they weren’t rotten — just ripe. Throw some chocolate chips in to complement the richness.

You also can peel a banana and freeze it, then throw it into a smoothie for yummy “ice.”

3. Pears. The pears in the window had gotten rather ripe last week, which was the perfect excuse to cook them instead of eating them raw. I made a pear tart and added an apple for a little extra body.

4. Apples. (Can you tell my fruit bag was bigger than our fruit stomachs?) These were getting a little mushy, too. I used two to make my first-ever stuffed French toast. I diced the apples (peels on, fed the cores — minus seeds — to the dog), melted a tablespoon of butter in our cast-iron griddle, and cooked the apples for about 10 minutes, till they were just starting to get brown in spots. Then I sprinkled them with sugar, stirred it up and turned off the heat. These are also excellent with a puff pancake (called a German pancake in my childhood).

5. Sourdough bread. Almost stale (because it was bought on the day-old shelf at our grocery store). I sliced it thickly (about 1.25″) and carefully cut a slit inside. Stuffed apples in with a spoon. Then dipped it in French toast batter (see below) and cooked it. (Little Cheap reported it was “insanely delicious” and “just like apple pie.”)

6. Egg white. My pear tart (which was made for Mr. Cheap’s birthday) called for beating one egg yolk with water and brushing it on the crust to juice-proof it. The leftover white went into the fridge. It would normally go into scrambled eggs, but Mr. Cheap has been frying recently, so there it sat. I made the French toast batter with two eggs and the white, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and …

7. “Buttermilk.” For dinner the other night I whipped up “buttermilk” biscuits. But I didn’t have any buttermilk. That’s OK, because the last times we’ve had buttermilk, it’s gone bad, and that’s not good. I might have some of the powdered stuff somewhere but I might be out. So I measured out some milk and stirred in some lemon juice for faux buttermilk. (I know, gross. Don’t think about it, just use it in a pinch.) I didn’t need as much as I thought I would. I almost threw it out, but instead stuck it in the fridge with a warning to Mr. Cheap not to add it to my coffee. The leftover went into the French toast batter. It was delicious.

8. Other leftover bread. In order of staleness, from least to most, we usually use it up like this:

a. Bruschetta. Slice, brush with olive oil, toast in oven. Perhaps top with something like chopped tomatoes and basil.

b. Croutons. Cube in 1″ pieces. Toss in a skillet with butter, minced garlic and whatever else you like in your croutons. If it was kinda stale, this is enough. If it isn’t crispy yet, throw it on a pan in the oven to finish crisping.

c. Bread pudding. I haven’t done this recently – almost forgot about it. But we did have a savory bread pudding with mushrooms at Doc Martin’s restaurant in Taos at Thanksgiving (not cheap!) that the whole family loved. It can be a light dinner main course if you go the savory route.

d. Bread crumbs. Leave the bread out to dry. When it’s dry, whizz it for a while in the food processor. Put it in a handy container (like, say, the old container from the bread crumbs you used to pay $2.39 for at the store). Use for breading, meat loaf, whatever. The Tightwad Gazette published a recipe for Bread Crumb Cookies to use up the leftovers; I haven’t tried it.

9. Saggy veggies. Throw them in stock.

10. Dinner leftovers. Eat them for lunch. If your family doesn’t like leftovers for lunch, cook enough that you’ll have another dinner, then freeze it and eat it later (don’t tell them it’s leftovers). If it’s little bits of this and that, decide what it tastes most like — Chinese? pasta primavera? tacos? soup? — and spice it up to add to some noodles for another meal.

11. Coffee. When we have leftover coffee in the pot (a few ounces most every day) Mr. Cheap fills the pot up with water and uses it to water plants. Coffee is good for the garden or houseplants. Of course, if you always have half a pot left, make less coffee.

12. Sprouted onions. Just use them! It’s like a green onion in the middle.

13. Hard cheese with mold. Cut off the mold (leave a “safety border” around the mold) and use the rest up soon.

14. Cottage cheese or yogurt with luscious pink and/or furry mold. EWW! Throw it out! Also don’t eat moldy bread. Even if you’re doing a Civil War recreation. “If it molds, it’s too old.”

A few leftovers happen sometimes, and I just don’t know what to do with them:

  • Soft, wrinkly potatoes.
  • Leftover milk in the cereal bowl.
  • Oranges or limes that dry out and get hard.

Any ideas?

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