Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Frugal Foodie

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.

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?


Carmen said...

Great post! It's amazing how much farther food can really go when you get creative.

I did not know that about sour milk... These days, with 4 boys in the house, milk doesn't sour too often, but it's good to know that I can use it in baking!

Here's soemthing else I like to do to make the food go farther. Unfinished plates of veggies, chicken bones left from a chicken dinner, the ends of the onions and peppers left after chopping them, veggies getting past their prime - all go in my freezer in one glass container. Then, when it comes time to make stock I throw them all in to get great flavor in the stock.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I didn't realize A Nation of Farmers was out yet. I'll have to check it out!

Heather @ SGF said...

I make (then can) soup with any leftover veggies. Canning (and freezing) is a great way to reduce waste. I also steam a lot of veggies and I always save the water runoff (there's a lot of nutrients there) from steaming to either use as a veggie soup stock or to cook rice.

Lately, I've combatted waste by sharing the bounty with friends and neighbors.

Jennifer said...

Those are great ideas! I'm bad about spoiled food... just now getting to a point where I will even THINK about eating an overripe fruit or veggie. I count the fact that I sliced up a wrinkled tomato for lunch yesterday to be a HUGE success!
Honestly, my dogs eat most of the overripe/slightly off leftovers. I figure it's healthier for them AND for the planet, as I will buy just a little less prepackaged (but organic!) kibble. My dogs need to eat, just like me... and they love it more when it is "slightly gone"!

Green Bean said...

Carmen: Love the stock idea. I do that too but need to be better about remembering to do it more often.

Abbie: Yup. I do like it. Check your library. Ours had a bazillion copies.

Heather: I should have known you'd have a load of awesome ideas on this topic. Love the idea of the water from steamed veggies.

Jennifer: I think feeding the dogs totally counts. As to bringing yourself to eat an overripe fruit or vegetable, that's why I do fruit smoothies and syrup and such. I just CANNOT bite into a mushy strawberry. But I can drink it or put it on top of my pancakes. :)

Daisy said...

Great tips! I rarely have leftover veggies because we have pet rabbits. I usually add the few leftover veggies to soup. My family knows that if we have sloppy joes or spaghetti with meatsauce, a batch of chili is coming soon. They can predict banana bread, too. Mmm!

kale for sale said...

Thanks for the sour milk idea. That's a new one. A couple things I do for the bottom of the crisper veggies is to make fried rice. It's accepting of most anything as long as I have a chile, soy and a nub of ginger. My other trick is omelets. That takes care of cheese, fresh or previously cooked veggies. Both are fast and easy which is the key at my house.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

No one in my house will eat bread butts, so I keep a container in the freezer for them. We use them whenever a recipe calls for bread crumbs, or we'll have french toast when the container gets really overloaded.

Just curious - why did you think you wouldn't like A Nation of Farmers? I haven't read it yet, but it's on my reading list. The co-author Aaron Newton is visiting Raleigh in a few weeks.

Tammy James said...

I mostly Menu plan but not down to the last item as I am known to change my mind ... Anyway I am often and usually making Vege stock from whats left in our winter crisper I freeze it in a couple of large portions for casseroles etc and a bunch in Ice cube trays to just add here and there to other dishes IYKWIM.

The Mom said...

Another thing I do with overripe fruit is to make fruit leather. Just toss it into the food processor or blender and into the dehydrator. You can also use your oven at the lowest setting. The kids think its candy.

Green Bean said...

Daisy: LOL, that they can predict things. That's the sign of true organization on your part!

Katrina: I love the omelets idea but I can never get my husband to eat eggs! Still . . . I'll have to try and sneak it in and also give the fried rice a go. I've actually never made that and I keep forgetting to do stir fry.

Erin: I'm so stealing that idea for the bread butts! As to Nation of Farmers, I guess I find Sharon Astyk a little gloom and doom. I'm not saying she's not right but reading about it all the time definitely takes a toll.

Tammy: I need to get better at menu planning and I definitely need to try your ice cube stock.

The Mom: Fruit leather! That is brilliant!!

Kristin said...

Great ideas! I smoosh my bananas into a container like your friend, too! My husband hates smooshy fruit so I throw them in smoothies. One thing I started recently is saving the juices from oven and crock pot cooked meats - makes for an easy (already spiced) gravy.


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