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Value Guru Capitalizes on Bits & Pieces

Holiday CheeseI know food lovers who create incredible meals out of what appears to be a chaos of abundant ingredients covering every kitchen surface, coaxing from each ingredient the very best it has to offer and…leaving to rot or get tossed any part that is not the most perfect or succulent portion. I know other fine home cooks who work meticulously in a neat and orderly kitchen, producing lovely meals from carefully selected ingredients, perfectly measured and diced, following recipes to a tee and getting the results they promise, and…just as meticulously, putting down the disposal any portion not called for in the recipe. While I am honored to eat the marvelous food from both cooking styles, I invisibly wince at the wasted bits and pieces. Every morsel of food requires energy and resources to produce, and some measure of money to procure. So in my own kitchen over the years I've tried to get a little creative with those bits and pieces.
  • Broccoli stems-peel or cut off the tough parts, slice into small chunks and use raw or steamed (or microwaved) in a salad, soup, casserole or stir fry.
  • Shrimp shells-freeze them until you have collected a significant amount, then use to make a seafood stock for your favorite chowder or bisque.
  • Tortilla chips (the broken bits at the bottom of the bag)-sprinkle over soup or salad like croutons or scramble with eggs to make migas.
  • Mustard (the end of the jar)-add extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, shake it up and you have a vinaigrette.
  • Mayonnaise (the end of the jar)-add apple cider vinegar, a pinch of sugar and lots of black pepper. Voila! It's cole slaw dressing.
  • Herbs
  • Fresh herb stems (and unused portions)-freeze for when you make a stock or soup. You can crunch them up into a tea ball or tie up in cheesecloth to drop in the pot.
  • Wine (bottom of the bottle)-use for deglazing a pan during cooking or to flavor a stew or sauce.
  • Fruit (on the edge of despair)-sauté it and serve over waffles, pancakes, yogurt or in a tortilla.
  • Butter
  • Cheese-so many wonderful things to do with bits of cheese that I wrote a whole post about it!
  • Butter (actually the paper it's wrapped in)-my paternal grandmother always kept these folded up in the freezer until she needed to grease a pan for baking or a casserole.
Yes, I know, some of these may go too far for you. What's too far for me? I'll never forget my maternal grandmother collecting the little lobster legs during a big family lobster feast. The next day she used a rolling pin to squeeze the little bit of soft meat from them, mixed with mayo and had "lobster salad" on crackers. While I won't do this myself, I always admired her ingenuity. While I don't always or obsessively do all of the ideas mentioned here, I figure you might find a useful tip that you can easily make a habit or a game of. And I bet you've got a few of your own. Care to share?

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Edel Alon says …

I love these tips! Especially the mustard/may jar one. I always feel bad washing out the bottoms of these jars.

kathy says …

i make turkey meatloaf in small loaf pans,several at a time and freeze for a quick meal when i'm strapped for time...i often use up leftover veggies, cheese, nuts, dried or fresh fruit, bread etc. in my recipe...no two batches are the same... kathy

Melody says …

Save the rind portion of the parmesan cheese in the freezer and add to soup pot.

Melody says …

Day old Italian/French style bread makes great croutons! I put butter or olive oil on bread, sprinkle with garlic powder, and bake until crisp. For variety sprinkle on your favorite herbs too.

Summer says …

Another cold-coffee tip: Add the coffee to a pot of beans or chili for a rich flavor. Also, Add it to your watering can and use it to water your houseplants, or pour it in the compost. The plants LOVE it, especially in places like Utah that have alkaline soil. Broccoli stems with the skins removed make excellent coleslaw when shredded. Pepper seeds, even the hot ones, are a great addition to the bird feeder, since birds are impervious to capsicum (the chemical that makes the seeds hot), but squirrels are not! There are lots of tips on saving this or that to make stock, but I don't make stock every day and the carrot tops and lettuce cores end up going to waste. Solution: Keep a "stock bucket" (tupperware container) in the freezer and deposit the leftover bits in it until you're ready to make soup. After you've made the stock, freeze it in ice cube trays (covered) and then save in a freezer container for later inclusion in gravies, etc.

msue says …

Another tip: don't forget to use left-over bones (from a chicken, turkey, etc.) to make a stock. The stock freezes well for later use.

Marla C. says …

These tips are awesome! Thanks.

Chris Hart says …

If you're anything like me, then you usually have a bit of cold coffee left in the pot. Well, here's a great way to use it. Skin and slice a pear (or maybe even a sweet apple) and stick it in a pan with some sugar and butter. Let it simmer. Add the cold coffee and bring up the heat again. Remove pears when soft and ready, and reduce the sauce to a syrup. Then, pour the pears and syrup over some ice-cream. Delicious! I'm actually eating some right now. It's so good. Exquisite dessert from old coffee and a pear. Add some Kahlua if you have it and it's even better!

Ben says …

My mother always uses the butter wrappers to grease pans and dishes for baking, but I've never known her to actually save them for later use. Being the good Norwegian that she is, she probably just always used enough butter in her baking that she always had a fresh wrapper! Yup, judging by my waistline growing up, that has to be it.

Nikki says …

I add bits of fruit to a can of mandarin oranges, pineapple tidbits, or peach halves; put it in a sealable container; and let it all marinade overnight. Also, we have a gel-filled ice-cream maker, so if I have the container ready, I'll puree some fruit with a little juice (or milk, sugar, and vanilla when it's only bananas). Then I pour the puree into the container for a treat that's ready in a half hour.

Emily says …

The broken bits of tortilla chips or regular chips make great breading for fish or anything that requires a breading.

Valorie B says …

Aha! Someone else, who used my "odd"? habit of saving butter wrappers to butter a dish or baking dish. I have had houseguests come and stay, and throw out my precious wrappers, thinking I just kept an untidy butter compartment. Finally, someone who understands!

Norine says …

I save all my vegetable scraps in the freezer. During the cold months, I make soup of course. But during the warmer months, I don't make soup. So I cook up a vegetable stock with them, cool and puree to use for making gravy. I store in 2cp pkgs and always have some to thaw out and use, warm or cold weather.

Michelle B. says …

It may be close to putting it down the disposal, but my dogs love the broccoli stalk. I'll cut the end off then cut that in half and the two of them just go crazy. I figure it is a healthy treat for them and it isn't wasting any part of the broccoli.

gina says …

I love taking cooked veggies and/or fruit that may be going bad soon, and adding them to pizzas or wraps, or throwing them into stir-frys! Last night I took some cooked broccoli that was going to go bad soon, and threw it into my turkey wrap. It was different, but very tasty!