From the bean of Green Bean.
In her latest book, A Nation of Farmers (a book I was prepared to hate but am actually loving) Sharon Astyk argues that learning to cook is more important than learning to grow our own food. She points to previous generations where yesterday's leftovers were tonight's main course. Where people ate healthy for pennies and obesity was a non-issue. Sharon doesn't focus much on food waste but I've previously read that 40% of produce grown in the United States never makes it to the table.
I, for one, have taken up the whisk and endeavored to slash the amount of food wasted at my home. I've become better about planning ahead and learned to combine recipes and substitute ingredients with glee. Most importantly, though, is that I've learned to use up what's left. I've learned to give the mushy melon and black bananas a home other than the compost bin. Here are a few of my most successful tricks for heading food off at the rotten pass.
SMOOTHIES: Smooshie strawberry? Bloated blueberry? Those and all other overripe or under-sweet fruits can find a home in a homemade smoothie along with whatever juice, yogurt or dairy is in the fridge and on the verge of yuck-dom.
I also freeze my bananas (when we buy them) as they start to go bad - assuming they've not been transformed into banana bread. A friend swears by skinning the bananas and placing them in a reusable bag before freezing them. So far, knock on wood, I've done just fine by freezing them in their own skins and then thawing them slightly before easing the frozen banana out for a smoothie. Toss in some ice first, then the fruit and then whatever liquid you are using. Flip the blender switch and Jamba Juice is a thing of the past. My kids love making smoothies and, in the height of summer, when we cannot eat through all the fruit before it starts to turn, we have smoothies several times a week.
SALAD: A summer-time favorite is a salad that I call bruscetta. Tomatoes (any variety) are the star ingredient. The riper the better. I add a dash of olive oil, some flavored vinegar (balsamic, red wine or whatever), salt, pepper, and sugar (yes, trust me on this one but just do a dash). From there, anyone lolling about the crisper or growing in the garden is fair game. Radish, cucumber, pepper, cooked potato, onion, summer squash, fresh herbs, leftover cheese, what have you. Anything and everything gets diced up, throw in and mixed up. This dish is better if it has a chance to sit for a while. Then all the flavors meld together. Soak up the leftover juices with a slice of crusty bread.
The Toby Show offers another take on the "clean out your fridge" salad - by mixing veggies with quinoa, or another grain.
POPSICLES: It is finally hot here in Northern California and that means popsicle weather. I love this season because I can rinse out all my near empty containers without guilt - after swirling them with water and freezing it in a popsicle mold. I encountered the idea of using "jam jar water" for popsicles in The Tightwad Gazette last summer and wrote about it at my now defunct blog, Green Bean Dreams. We've since popsicled our way through many a jam jar, yogurt container or leftover smoothie all with the same delicious results.
SPRING ROLLS: I know, I know. This is now the third post I've written on spring rolls but I'll just give a quick plug for those little rice wrappers. On spring roll night, I chop up whatever I find in the crisper and put it out as fillings. It's a great way to use up the lone summer squash or the random celery stick and the variety of ingredients makes the dish new every time we eat it.
FRUIT SYRUP: I've mentioned my fruit syrup before but, while we're on the topic of overripe fruits, cooking them down with a bit of honey or sugar transforms what could have been compost to compote. Or, more accurately, pancake and waffle topping, flavoring for plain yogurt and, most deliciously, flavor for cream cheese coffee cake.
SOURED MILK: When I'm not making homemade ice cream, ahem, we don't have a plethora of milk or cream around the house. Still, the time or two soured milk has lurked in my fridge, I've been happily surprised to find it is just fine for baking. I'm not alone in my affinity for soured milk delights. Milkweed Diaries offers up a recipe for soured milk pancakes which she promises are both yummy AND frugal.
That's how this frugal foodie fights food waste. How do you do it?