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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15 thoughts on “Thrifty kitchen: Use it up!

  1. Kathy says:

    I use my soft wrinkly potatoes in potato soup!

    Dice the potatoes (skin on) and onions. (Garlic is another optional ingredient). Cook everything in some stock. Season to taste. You can puree this or leave the potatoes in chunks.

    If you’re not opposed to canned food, a “cream of” soup added to this is good. If you don’t use the “cream of” soup you can add some powdered milk or cream (if you have it around) or cheese. If you want a thicker mixture you can add some instant potatoes.

    Love the blog!

  2. Deb Coyle says:

    Don’t know about the potatoes, milk in the bowl, or dried oranges or limes, but my husband and I use our leftover coffee for iced coffees!

  3. susie says:

    this post is awesome! i am gonna print this sucker out (as a tribute to you i’ll reuse paper from the recycling bin) and put it on the fridge. we do waste food but i try not to. this is very inspiring.

    and i have always drunk the cereal milk. it’s tasty!

  4. Ellen Moeller says:

    Fabulous ideas!! Love the stuffed french toast idea!

    I had a TON of leftover potatoes this year and they make just fine mashed potatoes. There is a recipe for Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy (Vegan with a Vengeance) that is so terrific. But no matter what, mashed potatoes are an easy way to use those wilty taters.

    Thanks for the great ideas. I’m going to start doing the leftover coffee one tomorrow! I never thought of that!

  5. Rabbit says:

    * Soft, wrinkly potatoes.

    Soup, stock, casserole. Lop off any bad bits, dice the rest, no one will ever know

    * Leftover milk in the cereal bowl.

    Drink it. You need your calcium… 😉 ….Or you can use it in baking. Most times you cant tell the difference.

    * Oranges or limes that dry out and get hard.

    Juice out what you can and soak the rinds in vinegar for a few days. Makes a great natural cleaner.

  6. CT says:

    You can zest the oranges and limes and keep the zest in the freezer until you need it (assuming you’re using organic). You can make candied peels (good recipe in the Joy of Cooking, although I don’t know anyone who actually likes them all that much). Dry limes could be tossed into the broth of an Asian noodle soup or used in some sort of marinade (sure, they’re dry, but there’s still some flavor in there — that’s my theory at least). And you could also cut them into wedges and put them in your drinks. Um, not that I hate to throw out food or anything.

    I wish my citrus dried up. I looked in the fridge yesterday and saw that a perfectly good lemon had turned into a ball of fuzzy mold overnight.

  7. cheaplikeme says:

    Hey, I make candied orange peels every Christmas (recipe from a small Christmas cookies book I got 12 years ago on my honeymoon at a Harry & David outlet store), and some people don’t even want cookies anymore, just the orange peels. Then again I use the fattest peels I can find from organic navel oranges … and at the moment I have shriveled clementines. 😦

    I guess with the cereal milk I should be more specific … I drink my own, or am skimpy enough with it that there’s not much left. But some days I’d have to tie Little Cheap down to make her drink hers — and she likes her cereal soupy. And the idea of drinking someone else’s cereal milk grosses me out. I’m particular like that. I guess I could sneak it into her bowl the next day!

    I suppose you could make pomander balls from old fruit, but the last time I made those my fingers were wounded from the cloves for days … and it’s kind of a waste of cloves, which don’t grow on trees (around here). Or slice them, dry them all the way and make potpourri? Or add to Asian soups?

    Great ideas everybody – thanks!

  8. Anna says:

    In our house, my boyfriend drinks hot coffee and I drink iced coffee, so it never goes to waste! Just put whatever leftover coffee you have in a pitcher in the fridge. Add whatever you like and serve.

    You can even make your own Frappucino with ice, iced coffee, milk or soymilk, and sweetener in the blender. Costs way less than Starbucks.

  9. MetaMommy says:

    You’ve got some great tips. I’ve worked hard from the other end to (1) avoid purchasing too much and (2) store what I buy carefully. As a result, we have very little waste, though we might lose and apple or orange every couple of weeks. I posted a few tips on produce storage from Real Simple that has really helped.

    -Soft potatoes do work great as mashed potatoes, but I’ve boiled them with equally effective results. Just cut off any sprouted or dark bits, and you’re set.

    -You make an interesting point with the leftover milk for Little Cheap. I suppose freezing it for future use might be a health issue (potential bacteria or something). What if you make it fun and give her a swirly straw? Or just make a mini smoothie later that day?

    -As for the citrus, the best course of action for me is to be proactive. Zest and juice them to freeze before they get too sad and you’ll always be ready.

    -Same trick goes for cheese. You can grate and freeze cheese that’s approaching the end of its life span.

    -I freeze my egg whites for future use, and it works to perfection. They’re usually used in an angel food cake, which requires anywhere from 9-12 egg whites!

  10. cheaplikeme says:

    @MetaMommy – Great point about not buying too much in the first place! I usually don’t, and I shop weekly so we have lots of fresh stuff around. But once in a while the family eating habits shift the wrong direction from what I’ve been buying … you know, when everyone LOVES oranges and then they — don’t.

    It is worth experimenting with freezing. Milk freezes well, too. But a lot of those food storage tips require too much paper toweling and plastic for me. 😦 And I’ll never be organized/fruit-loving enough to keep oranges in the refrigerator, then return them to room temperature before eating them.

    Mr. Cheap always used to keep herbs in a glass of water in the refrigerator (like little green bouquets), sometimes with their produce bag draped over the top. And I think the new fridge technology of humidifying fruit/veggie drawers helps, too …

  11. jessimonster says:

    Compost!
    That works for everything but the milk. I think the cereal milk is done for, unless you want to pour more ceral in and eat it up with the cereal (I always do that with Captain Crunch, because I can’t get enough Captain Crunch!).

  12. Meredith says:

    Citrus is great for cleaning the garbage disposal, slice it up and push it in, hard, brown, a little icky, the disposal doesn’t mind, it still cleans the blades and freshens it up.

  13. Khaki says:

    To make a lovely scent in the air: Boil the citrus (and throw in a cinamon stick or powdered stuff if you want…can also throw in a clove or two if you want.) Have a friend that flips houses and swears by this as a scent that sells houses.

    Can use the cereal milk in coffee. Nuke it before putting in the coffee to get rid of the ick factor.

  14. Lindy says:

    My children were always leaving milk in the cereal bowls; on top of that, there was so much happy chattering around the breakfast table that cereal would often go soggy before it was finished.

    I fixed both problems this way.

    A bowl of dry cereal, a glass of milk, some yogurt or banana…the kids eat their cereal dry or sprinkled over their yogurt or fruit. They drink their milk from the glass- any left overs are put away for a snack later. No waste!

  15. hsl2000 says:

    If you are eating any kind of fortified cereal, you–and your kids–REALLY need to drink the milk; those added vitamins and minerals are almost always added as a coating to today’s cereals, so they tend to dissolve in the milk. For many cereals (like everybody’s favorite Captain Crunch mentioned above), that is almost all the food value available anyway!

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