In honor of Earth Day our EIC, Tri is giving you guys the lowdown on upcycling food: Turning scraps into simple suppers and how to save them for realistic later use, (No one has time to make herb ice cubes).
I go to the market a couple of times a week to either stock up on Pan-tri Essentials or to throw another dinner party. People often say that you’re not supposed to shop when you’re hungry, but what is someone supposed to do when they’re always hungry? Stuff my face beforehand just to pop into the produce section? HA. That idiotic tip must be for people who don’t have to work for a living.
I’m honestly just scrambling to find the time to swing by the grocery store at any spare moment during the day that I can find. Which is why ideally, I would shop solely at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but since I’m consistently on a time crunch, you’re more likely to find me in the express lane at Safeway at 11pm on Wednesday. 24-hour markets are seriously a life-saver.
Because of my crippling fear that I won’t have enough food to serve at dinner and guests will deem the meal to be skimpy, I tend to overbuy. I hate wasting food so luckily I’ve come up with creative ways to use leftovers and scraps. Certain things I know to buy when I’m specifically planning on using them—seafood, fresh berries, tomatoes, dairy. But what about broccoli? Or bacon? Over the years I’ve come up with a few ways to either salvage the scraps or create entire dishes around them. Like why bother going out to buy even more ingredients when you can just create a feast out of the odds and ends? Don’t be hasty to throw out everything the next time you’re making a Sunday dinner because you might be able to stretch it out for the rest of the week.
Broccoli & Cauliflower Stems. I’ll admit, I’m the worst when it comes to florets. If I’m making a dish that calls for broccoli or cauliflower florets, I like to only use almost the tips, which is the most prized part of the vegetable. It’s the most tender and the sweetest. Plus I don’t like using any of the stems in those dishes because they tend to be more tough and stringy. I can’t stand the sharp contrast in texture. But no need to throw them away. Broccoli stems are delicious when you boil them and turn them into a puree. Cauliflower stems are delicious when pickled. I love the crunch they add to a sandwich or you can just serve them on the table at any dinner where you want a zesty-crunchy component. Alternatively just boil them and turn them into a soup. You can even peel and then freeze them for later.
Shrimp Shells. I normally buy shrimp peeled in giant 2-pound bags from the freezer aisle. My favorite are the ones that are labeled “EZ peel.” I can butterfly and grill them or just peel them very quickly. I don’t like people having to do a lot of work in order to eat my food so that whole mentality of “lets get elbow deep in shells and get our hands dirty” isn’t for me. Like you’re at someone’s house to relax and have dinner, who wants to work for their meal? But make sure to save the shrimp shells to make a flavorful seafood stock. It keeps for months in the freezer. If you’re not going to use the shells right away, then just pop them into a freezer bag and freeze them for like 2 months. Trust me, you’ll be glad to have them.
Celery Leaves, Carrot Ends, & Mushroom Stems. Besides stock, you can also use these leftover pieces to round out your pasta sauces. These extra bits are serious flavor bombs and there’s a ton of nutrients in them. Just chop them up and sauté them with some garlic and onions for an incredibly delicious sauce starter. I don’t use mushroom stems in my stuffed mushrooms because there tends to be a lot of water in them. I don’t really like the leaves or carrot ends in my stuffings because I only want the most tender and sweetest parts of the vegetable, (I’m not sorry). So I feel more responsible to make sure that the leftovers really shine. If you’re not going to use the carrots and celery right away, just freeze them in a freezer bag for up to a month, but make sure you use the mushroom stems right away.
Pre-cut & Fresh Fruit. If you have leftover stone fruit or berries, I like to make a big batch of jam and give them out as favors throughout the year. Berries in particular seem to have BOGO sales pretty often so make sure to stock up whenever you get the chance. But honestly, who has time to make jam on a regular basis? Growing up in an Asian household buying an overabundance of fruit is literally an everyday occurrence. Whenever I’ve overbought, I wash and cut all my extra fruit while they’re still fresh, throw them into giant freezer bags and freeze them for smoothies or quick mimosa bases. Melon, grapes, berries, bananas and mangos all freeze beautifully. Just make sure to drain all the water out and lay the bag in the freezer horizontally so that they don’t get stuck in one giant rock. FLOP.
Bread. I think there’s a way that you can wrap a baguette in foil and reconstitute it in water somehow, but I can always tell when bread has previously been frozen. So my favorite thing to do is cube stale bread and freeze the cubes in a freezer bag and use them to make breadcrumbs whenever I need them. Another possibility is to soak the scraps in milk and use them as a base to make meatballs or meatloaf. Super simple.
Coffee & Tea. The scraps from leftover coffee and tea can be used to make coffee cubes to serve at your next brunch. That way your drinks won’t be watered down as much. If I’m feeling fancy, I just throw in a berry into some of the cubes or like a pomegranate seed into the tea cubes and people think that I made a special batch of tea cubes just for them. Sure I did.
Things you can’t salvage. Garlic can only be used fresh, but if you leave the cloves you aren’t using on the main bulb, they’ll last longer. Same with onions, freezing them takes away that fresh aromatic flavor you want, so try using the entire onion whenever possible. Buy smaller onions to amend this. Citrus is too juicy to freeze, but you can freeze the juice into cubes. Rice isn’t the same when you freeze it so just use leftovers to make fried rice, people won’t be able to tell the difference. Finally, regarding things containing dairy or cheese, right before the step that you add dairy you can freeze them, but after that just figure out a way to use it fresh. Leftovers for lunch, anyone?