Waste Not, Want Not: Last Minute Food Saves

The holiday season will most likely have you traveling, and eating out of the home often. How, then, to manage your cupboards without making 12 trips a month to the store, or letting anything go to waste? I give you advice gathered from a myriad of “foodies” on the care and keeping of your food.

FREEZING: This is a great, last minute life-saver for leftovers and, with a little thinking ahead, a way to get a jump on future meals. Liquids such as soup, broth, and fruit juice freeze/thaw very well. Put them in gallon bags and freeze flat for efficient freezer use. Prepare ripe fruit by washing it, letting it dry, then pre-chopping it for pies and smoothies. Freeze spinach for an easy thaw into eggs, greek pastries, and flatbreads. Freeze leftovers like enchiladas, meat dishes, and quiche. (Thaw frozen rice with a little water on the stovetop. Reheat roasted veggies with a little olive oil in the oven at 400°.) Making a pizza for dinner? Prepare two while the ingredients are out, and freeze the second for a quick dinner. Basically anything you see in your grocer’s “frozen dinner aisle” will translate to your own freezer.

ICE CUBES: Yes, this is technically a freezing technique, but one that has awesome potential in last minute entertaining. Freeze lemon, lime, and fruit juices in ice cube trays for any-time cocktail quickies. Freeze washed blueberries whole in bags and keep them on hand. Drop frozen berries one by one into glasses of beer. (Watch them bounce!)

SOUPS: This is my mom’s favorite solution to ripe vegetables. Floppy carrots and celery, soft tomatoes and bell peppers, wilting herbs, sprouting potatoes. You can even go an extra step and blend the soup once it’s cooled if the idea of soft veggies makes you wiggle inside. Blended, you’ll never know the difference!

CANNING: Canning is slowly coming back on the radar as hipsters and homesteaders indulge nostalgia. It’s an easy practice, though time-consuming, and definitely requires a tutorial to properly seal the food in airtight jars. You can re-use mason jars and screw tops, but you must buy new lids for each canning round. This is a phenomenal way to save peaches, plums, berries, persimmons, and tons of other “fleshy fruit.” One year, we were swimming in tomatoes and decided to cook up some tomato sauce, can it, and give it as Christmas gifts! Why not gift your own signature sauce?

PICKLING: Using the canning technique, consider pickling cucumbers, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and other hearty veggies with an easy brine or whey.

BAKING:  Have some rather odious bananas that are quickly turning brown? Make them into banana (nut) bread. (Add chocolate chips!) Zucchini’s getting a little soft? Muffin-time! Forget the lemon zest and just use the juice for lemon bars. Blueberries getting too cozy and afraid of mold? Make a tart or toss them into pancakes.

DRYING: This is especially useful for pesky mealy apples. Thinly slice through the fruit in rounds, place in a 200° oven for about an hour or so and watch them turn into delicious crispy snacks. Dry clean herbs upside down for two weeks then bottle them up in glass jars, storing in a cool, dry place.

CLEANING PRODUCTS: Do you live near the citrus harvest? Slice lemons and store them in mason jars with a moist, clean rag dipped in vodka. The next time you need a quick dust around the wood and baseboards, grab a jar and go!

COMPOST: If all else fails and the food is definitely past its prime, cultivate it back into the earth by starting a compost pile. It doesn’t have to be a fussy farm pile, but definitely read up on which foods will and will not break down. Remember to layer dry and wet scraps.