Before you relegate those food trimmings — that chicken carcass, those broccoli stems, that stale bread — to the trash can or even to the compost bucket, give it another thought. You might be able to give them new life as part of another dish, saving waste and money in the process.
We asked Sue Lednicky, a nutrition educator with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, and Christopher Johns, executive chef at the South Point, for some ideas for using commonly discarded food items.
“There’s a lot of things,” Johns said.
Johns said the stems of fresh broccoli can be peeled, grated and turned into slaw, or used as a salad topping with grated carrots, or mixed with carrots and onions for a stir-fried vegetable.
Or, save the stems and when you have enough, peel and cube them and cover them with broth, add some sauteed onion and cook until soft. Partially puree with a stick blender or food processor, add milk or cream if desired, season to taste, and you have cream of broccoli soup.
While we’re on the subject of soup: With the ham-heavy Easter holiday coming up, Lednicky suggested using the ham bone (you can freeze it for a while, if you wish) to make ham stock that can be used for bean soup or ham and cabbage soup. Or use the bone to make red beans and rice.
Chicken or turkey carcasses also can be used to make soup — and also can be held in the freezer, if you wish. Sometimes there will be enough meat clinging to the bones that you can cut it up and return it to the soup, but if you did a particularly good job of picking those bones at dinner, Johns suggests using them to make stock and freezing it in ice-cube trays. Put the cubes in zip-top bags for storage.
“As you need them, you just take one or two out and you’ve got concentrated flavor, and you can put that straight into a soup or sauce,” he said.
Lednicky said she always freezes leftover vegetables and adds them to soup, whether homemade or packaged.
Leftover beef — an extra steak, maybe, or leftover roast beef — or the bones from that Christmas roast can be turned into beef stock or a nice beef-barley-mushroom soup.
If you chop up an onion and don’t use it all, Lednicky said to keep it in the freezer. When you need some chopped onion, you can scrape off as much as you want, she said.
Dried-out bread, she said, can be turned into bread crumbs in a blender or food processor. Johns said another use for stale bread is to cube it, brush with oil, sprinkle with herbs or other seasonings, if desired, cut into cubes and toast for croutons.
“You can make your own unique flavor,” he said.
Or, cube your leftover bread or rolls and collect them in a big plastic bag in your freezer. Feel free to combine all sorts of flavors and textures. When November rolls around, use the bread for stuffing for your Thanksgiving turkey.
If you have eggs that are about to pass their “use-by” date, Lednicky suggested putting them in ice-cube trays. Break the yolks and give the eggs a little stir, she said, then freeze, later transferring them to a zip-top bag. You’ll know you have one egg per cube; just thaw before using.
A lot of people, Lednicky said, aren’t aware that milk can be frozen.
“If you wanted to save some money, you could buy a gallon and freeze half of it until you’re ready to use it,” she said.
Are your bananas getting a little too spotty? Pop them in the freezer, skin and all. The skins will turn solid black but the bananas will be fine, if a little soft — which, when thawed, makes them perfect for banana bread.
One thing about green onions, Johns said, is “they’re always sort of hanging around at the end.” So slice or dice, he said, and add to ramen or soup. Or keep them in the freezer with leftover peppers and turn them into an omelet.
Leftover fresh herbs, he said, can be frozen in ice-cube trays with water and then dropped into a sauce.
“You’ve got fresh concentrated flavor,” he said. “The water content is so small, it doesn’t dilute the flavor or anything.”
Mix leftover mashed potatoes with shallots and/or onion or other seasoning, portion and fry until golden brown and you’ve got potato cakes for breakfast or a lunch side dish, Johns said.
Do you only need a tablespoon from that can of tomato paste? Portion the rest of it into tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper on a tray, freeze and then pop the dots into a plastic bag and store in the freezer.
Save cheese rinds in the freezer and use to season soups or sauces.
“Use a spatula to clean out jars,” Lednicky said. “You’d be surprised at how much mayonnaise or peanut butter is in that jar. You could get one more sandwich out of it.”
The key: Think before you toss.
“We’re a throwaway society,” Lednicky said. “We’re so used to just throwing things away. You can do a lot just saving things, using things in a much, much better way.”
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0474.