Showing posts with label Food Waste. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food Waste. Show all posts

Jul 21, 2014

Make Your Produce Last Longer

"My produce always goes bad before we can eat it all," I overheard a woman complain to her friend. "I spend all this money on healthy food, and most of it gets wasted!" She's not alone. Experts estimate Americans throw away 14 - 25% of their food, costing the average family $1,365 - $2,275. This is tragic, considering an estimated 842 million people worldwide don't have enough to eat.

What can you do to end food waste in your household? Check out the tips below. (And be sure to see the other articles I've written about food waste, too.)

"And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples,
'Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.'” 

* Buy only what you can reasonably expect to eat before it goes bad. Even if it means extra trips to the farmer's market or grocery store.

* Keep one drawer in the fridge for fruits, and another for veggies. Never store them together because many fruits release ethylene gas - —a ripening agent that makes veggies rot faster.

* Don't refrigerate bananas, garlic, apples, winter squash, potatoes, or onions. Tomatoes tend to turn mealy in the fridge, too. (Be careful to keep onions and potatoes apart, since onions hasten the demise of taters.)

* Freeze certain veggies. On shopping day - or perhaps the day after shopping - chop up produce you'll use for cooking, like onion, green onions, herbs, and sweet peppers. Pop them in a freezer bag, and you won't have to worry about them going bad.

* Use up the most perishable items first. For example, snack on bananas before you start in on the apples. You'll also want to plan your meals so the most perishable foods get used up first.

* Learn to use up just-about-to-spoil produce. You can make smoothies with them. Or freeze them. Or dehydrate them.

* Don't store countertop produce in a hot or sunny location. Keep them in a cool, dark location and they will remain fresh longer.

* Immediately remove produce that's overripe or spoiling. For example, if you keep an apple that has a spoiled spot in with the other apples, it will hasten the spoiling of them all.
I wouldn't want to have to do without my Progressive Keepers.

* Use Progressive International Keeper containers. They really work! There is a water reservoir at the bottom of the containers, plus adjustable venting - and all the information you need for correctly storing produce is right on the container itself. (Some people also swear by Tupperware Fridgesmart containers.)

* Don't wash fruits until you're ready to eat them; experts say water decreases fruit's life by 40%. Some people swear by rinsing them in vinegar and water; I've never tried this becauee I find fruits and berries last a long time in my Progressive containers.

* Remove ties and rubber bands before storing.

* Don't stuff fridge drawers. If you let produce have a little room to breathe, the food will last longer.

* Place plastic wrap over the stem end of bananas. Some people claim separating them makes them last longer, too, but I haven't found this to be the case. And while you're at it, buy green bananas and let them ripen on the counter. They'll last many more days this way.

* Consider whether it needs ripening. Avocados, tomatoes, stone fruits, mangoes, melons, pears, bananas, and apples, will continue to ripen if you leave them on the counter. Citrus, berries, grapes, and bell peppers will not ripen on the counter and will spoil quickly there.

* Buy from local farmers. The food is fresher than what you buy at te grocery store; therefore, it stores longer at home.

* Don't toss it just because it looks bad. With heads of lettuce or cabbage, remove the outer leaves and you'll find fresher leaves inside. Cut away bad spots in fruit, eat the rest.

* Compost! If all else fails, compost spoiled produce to feed the soil in your yard! Also, if you have critters (like chickens and rabbits) that can eat produce, it's fine to give them wilty, dry, or otherwise unpalatable produce - but never give them anything that's rotten.

 

Jul 29, 2013

The Easy Peasy Way to Freeze Tomatoes, Remove Tomato Skins, and Turn Green Tomatoes Red

Recently, I was shocked to hear a friend described how she froze extra tomatoes from her garden. It was complicated! "Really," I told her, "it doesn't have to be so hard! In fact, it should be almost magically easy!"

The Easy Peasy Way of Freezing Tomatoes

In just 2 steps:

1. Place clean, dry tomatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer.

2. Once the tomatoes are hard, transfer to a freezer bag.

It works. Honest.

Tomatoes frozen in this manner may later be canned, if you like, or you can use them like fresh tomatoes for cooking.

The Easy Peasy Way of Remove Frozen Tomato Skins

You'll notice I didn't suggest removing the tomato skins before freezing them. That's because it's a little bit of work to do it that way. Instead, if you want skinned tomatoes, remove them from the freezer and put them under warm tap water. The skins practically slide off without help. (And while you're at it, consider keeping those skins to make easy peasy tomato paste. I dry the skins, crumble them, and store them in a Mason jar in the pantry. When I need tomato paste, I just add water. Please go here for full instructions.)
 
How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

As the tomato growing season ends, you'll want to know this trick, too. When frost threatens to kill your tomato vines, pick all the green tomatoes off your plants and bring them inside. Place them in a single layer in your pantry. With time, they will turn red. They won't be quite as delish as garden-fresh tomatoes, but they'll be better than store bought. As they ripen in the fall and possibly the winter months, I often freeze them. Once all my green tomatoes are red, I usually can them. Or you can just use the reddened tomatoes fresh, as they become available.

Or, check out my post on how to cook with green tomatoes.

Jan 21, 2013

2 Simple Steps for Reducing Waste in the Home

Cutway model of a typical compost bin. (Bruce McAdam)
Have you heard about the "Zero Waste Home?" Well, that's not my house. (Something I'm glad for, since the zero waste home seems a bit obsessive-compulsive to me.) But over the past few years, we've definitely cut down on the amount of trash we send to the landfill. And not only is it not hard - it saves us money.

Compost

The first important step to reducing household waste is to compost. It's also a must if you have any type of a garden; compost is expensive to purchase and so easy to make.

I keep a small, attractive container on the kitchen counter and empty it nearly every day. Into this container goes:

* fruit and vegetable scraps
* empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls
* paper towels (don't compost any that have cleaning chemicals on them)
* scratch paper my children have drawn on or that I've made lists on
* waxed paper, including the kind butter is wrapped in
* parchment paper(after reusing it several times)
* coffee grounds and filters
* tea bags (only the kind without staples in them)
* egg shells
* "old maids" (popcorn that didn't pop)

My favorite composter.
In addition, we put the following in our composter:

* grass clippings (unless I use them as garden mulch or give them to the chickens)
* clippings from the garden (unless my hubby chips them and I use them as garden mulch)
* cardboard boxes (unless I use them as garden mulch)
* tissue paper
* wrapping paper
* rotten produce from the fridge (no matter how careful I am, we always end up with some)
* weeds that haven't gone to seed
* chicken manure (I have one composter just for manure so I can be sure it's well aged before I use it in the garden)

So, you can see this takes care of pretty much all paper products, garden waste, and some of the kitchen waste. (Learn more about what can be composted over at TLC and Compost Instructions.)

To learn more about how to start your own composting pile(s), read my post here. But it really couldn't be easier; simply pile organic material and let it decompose. If you want it to decompose faster, you can be mindful of what you put in and how often you turn the pile. I've also found things compost faster in well ventilated, rotating compost bins made from black plastic - but even just a pile in a corner of your yard will eventually turn to beautiful compost that enriches the earth. I sometimes also use the old fashioned method of trenching: Just dig a hole somewhere in your yard, put compostable material in it, and cover it up.

Kitchen and garden scraps.
Chickens

The second easy way we've reduced household waste is to have chickens. Yes, pigs have a reputation for being wonderful "garbage" eaters, but really, chickens are just as good and take up a lot less room. A bonus: the more "garbage" you feed them, the less you'll spend in chicken feed. To the chickens go:

* weeds I don't compost
* garden clippings I don't compost or chip (don't give hens tomato plants, though)
* any leftover food that can't be composted, including
  • meat (yes, chicken, too)
  • meat fats and gristle
  • cheese
  • soured milk
  • pasta
  • bread
  • any veggies or fruit scraps I don't compost (avoid onions and fruit peels in quantity because they make eggs taste "off" and avoid potato peelings because they can poison chickens.)
In my experience chickens don't turn their noses up at any food - and many foods you might think they couldn't or wouldn't eat (like sour, curdled milk), they actually adore.

Other Things We Don't Throw Out

* leaves (rake them where you want them, then let them decompose - they are great for the soil; if you prefer, compost them)
* glass jars (save them for storing dried goods or non-food items like pins or nails in)
* certain plastic containers that once held food (also for storing dried goods; don't use jars that didn't contain food)

We rarely recycle - primarily because recycling uses up a lot of fuel and energy. Besides, why send it off somewhere if we can use it somewhere on our "homestead?"

How do you reduce waste in your household? 


This post featured on Homestead Abundance.

Nov 26, 2012

Avoiding Food Waste Through Freezing

There are three good reasons I do everything possible to avoid food waste in our home:

1. Wasting the food God gives us is being a bad steward.

2. My husband and I work too hard to waste money on food that will just spoil.

3. There are many hungry people in the world. To allow food to go to waste shows callousness to their plight.

Now that I compost kitchen scraps - or feed them to the chickens - I feel less guilty when the celery at the back of my fridge goes bad. But I would much rather we actually eat the food we buy. There are two ways I make sure this doesn't happen:

1. I plan our meals and use up certain perishable items first. (To learn my simple method of meal planning, click here.) For example, if I buy squash, I know it won't last very long in the fridge, so I serve all the meals with squash in them within a few days of purchase. If I buy cabbage, I know it will last for months in the fridge, so the cabbage meals can wait until the more perishable food is eaten.

2. I freeze the food that's most likely to go bad in the fridge before we can use it.

For that second method to work, you just have to pay attention to what seems to go bad in your fridge. Often, it's produce. In my house, it's mostly fresh herbs, onions, and bell peppers. In your house it might be something entirely different.

Some people like to freeze these foods as soon as they get home from the grocery store. If you can do that, wonderful. I cannot; by the time we've finished shopping, my kids are tired, hungry, and cranky - and I'm usually pretty beat, too. Instead, I prefer to freeze food in spare moments a day or two after shopping.

I like to freeze meats first. They are expensive and seem to go bad faster than many other foods. I simply divide them up into appropriate servings, place them in Ziplock bags, and freeze. (Don't freeze in the plastic wrap you buy them in or the meat will suffer freezer burn.) If I'm really "with it," I'll brown hamburger before freezing it, to save time later.

Next, I work on herbs. I chop them and pour each type into one Ziplock bag. When it's time to cook with them, it's easy to just reach into the bag and grab what I need. If needed, I knock the bag on the side of the counter to break apart chunks.

Next comes other vegetables - in my house, mostly onions and sweet peppers. Again, all I do is chop them and put them in one bag. I've also successfully frozen carrots, green onions, and celery without doing anything special to them first. Just chop into the size you'll use for cooking and place in a bag.

Again, I want to stress that I rarely do all this freezing in one fell swoop. Instead, I do a little at a time when:

* I'm waiting for something to cook.
* my first grader is reading to me.
* I just happen to have a spare few minutes.

Be sure to mark the Ziplock bags with the contents and the date.


Freezing these most-likely-to-rot foods isn't difficult, doesn't have to take much time, saves you cooking time later, models good stewardship, and saves money.

What foods are most likely to rot in your fridge? If you need help knowing how to freeze them, just leave a comment below, and I'll be sure to answer your questions.

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Jun 26, 2012

Making Homemade Stock or Broth

Homemade and canned chicken stock.
This post originally ran in 2010, but I've updated it with more complete canning information.

NOTE (5/23/13): I recently learned that bones used for stock making can be used more than once. I've read of people using them up to 13 times (!), but I have personally used them up to three times. (After that, I ran out of refrigerator space.) The trick is to add a splash of white vinegar to each new batch, to help leach the bones further. The vegetables used in stock can be used twice, but you should add fresh vegetables, too.

If you've never used homemade stock (some people call it broth) for cooking, you're missing out on a real treat. It is so much better (and cheaper) than anything you can buy in a store - and it's not difficult to make. Making stock is also a great way to use up scraps of food - peelings from vegetables, wilting vegetables left in your fridge, or poultry, meat, and seafood carcasses.

If you're not sure how to use stock, try using it as a substitute for water or wine in any savory recipe. You can also use it as a base for soups and stews, or add it instead of water in things like rice. To save a load of calories, you may also use it in place of butter or oil when sauteing.
Use homemade stock within a few days (store it in the refrigerator), or you freeze it for up to up to a year. You can even can it using a pressure canner. (See instructions at the bottom of this post.)

How to Make Chicken Stock
Use the carcass (the bones and whatever leftover meat or organs that you don't want to eat) of a whole chicken (or any other type of poultry) and a number of vegetables, either scraps or whole. You don't need an exact recipe for the veggies, but here's one to experiment with: one large onion (quartered; papery skin in tact), three carrots (chopped into pieces small enough to fit into the pot), four stalks of celery (also chopped into large pieces so they fit into the pot), one tablespoon of whole black peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, a little salt, and perhaps a few garlic cloves.

To make the stock richer, you can roast all the meat, bones, and veggies first in a 450 degree F oven for about 45 minutes. But if you're pressed for time, it's fine to skip this step.

Place all the ingredients in a large pot, cover them with water, and simmer for between two and six hours. If necessary, add water to keep the poultry and vegetables covered. Allow the stock to cool slightly, then carefully strain the liquid into a large bowl. (Toss the plant based scraps in the compost bin; you may wish to reserve the bits of meat that fell off during cooking for a casserole or some similar dish. Chickens also love the scraps leftover from stock making; just remove the bones first.) Refrigerate the stock overnight. The fat will rise to the top of the pot; scoop it away with a spoon.

How to Make Beef, Vegetable, or Fish Stock

For beef stock, use meat bones (beef, lamb, pork, ham, veal, or venison all work). Add vegetables and pepper. You may also wish to add one or two quartered tomatoes. Add enough water to cover everything and proceed as if making chicken stock.

For vegetable stock, you may use nearly any vegetable - except broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, which are too potent for a good stock. Tomatoes (which are really fruit) should be kept to a bare minimum; I wouldn't use more than one, quartered. Fresh vegetables work, but peelings and left overs are perfectly fine, too. Some good choices for making vegetable stock include garlic, onions (including green onions), potatoes (including sweet potatoes), carrots, celery, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, corn (including corn cobs), green beans, peas, and beets. Salt, pepper, and bay leaves are good choices, too.
 
Fill a large pot half full of vegetables and half full of water, then proceed as if making chicken stock. (You will not have to skim fat off the top of the stock.)

Like all other stocks, scraps work just fine for making fish stock. Use about fish, shrimp, crab, or lobsters and their shells. You'll also need about two tablespoons of butter, two large quartered onions, four garlic cloves, one or two celery stalks, parsley, one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (in a pinch, you can use the bottled stuff), and one teaspoon of whole black peppercorns. You can also include a cup of dry white wine.

In a large pot, melt the butter and sauté the garlic, onion, and celery until soft. Place all the remaining ingredients in the pot, adding about a gallon of water. Proceed as if making chicken stock.

To Can Stock
Poultry, Meat, or Vegetable stock: Leave 1 inch headspace and process in a pressure canner; pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes*

Seafood Stock: I can find no tested guidelines for canning seafood stock. For safety, freeze it instead.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.
So, here is a basic recipe for meat stock.
Add your ingredients to your stock pot and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 4 hours. Add more water if necessary to keep the ingredients covered. Strain out the solid ingredients and refrigerate stock for a few hours. The fat layer can easily be skimmed off the chilled stock, making it ready for use or the freezer.
Seafood Stock
Seafood stock comes in handy for many recipes. You can use any inexpensive white fish scraps, bones and trimmings (your seafood market or grocery store probably sells fish packaged for just this purpose). You can also use crab, shrimp and lobster shells for adding flavor to seafood stocks.
Melt butter in bottom of stock pot and sauté onion, garlic and celery for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about an hour. Periodically skim off foam that will appear at the top of pot. Cool and strain out solid ingredients. Your stock is now ready for use or for the freezer.
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Jun 18, 2012

Picking Unripe Apples For Apple Pectin

When I took my children for a walk today, on a hunch I brought along a plastic shopping bag. I was glad I did, because in several spots on the sidewalk there were tiny green apples. We came home with about four pints - a good beginning.

Why would I want those super sour apples that fall from the tree early and are usually looked upon merely as mess makers? So I can make apple pectin!

Homemade apple pectin is:

* Ideal for jam and jelly making; it allows you to use less sugar than if you use ordinary store bought pectin.

* Fights cancer; a study by The University of Georgia found that apple pectin may help treat prostrate and other cancers, reducing cancer cells as much as 40 percent. Pectin may also reduce the risk of colon cancer.

*  Is good for cholesterol, according to The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

* Helps relieve diarrhea.

* Apple pectin has even been used to combat radiation in Russia.

You can learn how to make apple pectin here.

The best apples for making apple pectin are those that are very sour - ideally unripe apples or crab apples. If you have your own apple trees, this is no problem at all; at this time of year, as the fruit begins growing larger, overcrowded fruits fall to the ground and are perfect for making pectin. But if you don't have your own apple trees, you'll need to get more creative. You can save all the throw-away parts of ripe apples you eat (including the pits and peels), but you'll get better pectin if you look around for apple trees in your neighborhood that have fallen, unripe fruit.

Any fruit that's on the sidewalk is free for the pickin'. Typically, fruit found in public areas, such as parks, are okay to pick, too - though it's a good idea to check with the local government first. If you want to, you can even knock on people's doors and ask to pick up all the little apples in their yards. Most people will be glad to have you do so - it will save them the trouble of sweeping them up themselves. Just be sure to pick up all the fruit, discarding any rotten pieces in your own compost bin. (The fruit doesn't have to be perfect, but it shouldn't be soft or spoiling.)

Only gathering a few at a time? No worries; just freeze the apples whole (or the apple scraps, as is) until you have enough to make a batch of pectin.

Happy picking!


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Oct 14, 2011

Reducing Household Waste

Do you ever look at your curbside on trash day and wonder how it is your family throws away so much? I do, and lately I've been making an effort to reduce the amount of stuff we have to pay someone else to haul away.

For me, this isn't a "green" thing. Most of what my family throws away eventually decomposes and improves, anyway. But I am interested in using what we have wisely - and in reducing our garbage bill. But whatever motives you to reduce your garbage, here are a few ideas. Note that I'm not really interested in the zero-waste theory. I find that a bit obsessive. Or compulsive. Or something. People have always thrown some things away. My approach is more moderate, as you will see.

1. Compost everything possible. I'll bet that even if you're already composting, you're not composting everything you could be. Some examples of less-often composted items includes: toilet paper rolls, paper napkins, cardboard boxes of all sizes, waxed paper, pet and people hair, non-slick junk mail, popcorn kernels that didn't pop, weeds (unless they've gone to seed), and non-plastic Q-tips. Don't have a composter? Dig a hole in the ground and bury compostable materials; that's the old school way. *

2. Buy from bulk bins. Some stores allow you to bring in your own containers, weight them, and fill them with items from bulk bins. This is a bit of trouble if you do "big" grocery shopping, but it makes the pantry more organized and it reduces the amount of waste coming from your kitchen. If you can't bring in your own containers, use store-provided paper bags, which can go into the compost bin.

3. Reuse or give away. Old peanut butter and coffee jars are terrific for holding and organizing a wide assortment of items, from snack foods to nails. Children's clothes too small? Refashion them into clothes that fit, or give them away to someone who can use them. You get the idea.

4. Can your own foods. Store bought canned goods are convenient, but all those cans take up quite a bit of space in the garbage can. With home canned goods, the jars are used over and over again; you only throw away (or recycle) the small, flat lids.

5. Rethink food storage. Whenever possible, use reusable containers (ideally, glass) for storing leftover food, or repeatedly re-use plastic freezer bags.

6. Replace paper towels and napkins with cloth.

7. Learn to use all the food you buy. Make a weekly or bi-monthly list of dishes you'll serve and post it on the fridge; learn my super-easy method here. Make sure to use all leftovers, use up the edible parts of the food you buy, and organize your fridge to end food waste.

8. Avoid produce in plastic. First of all, do you really want fresh food wrapped in chemically-created plastic? And how can you tell how fresh (or not) the food is? Plus, you just have to throw all that plastic away.

9. Avoid processed foods. Not only are they unhealthy, but they create way more trash.

10. Give your children used paper for drawing and crafts. Whether it's junk mail or paper from your computer's printer, if it's not printed on two sides, it's still useable! Once your children have used up the paper, compost it.

11. Spend a month really paying attention to what ends up in the trash can, then brain storm ways to reduce your most persistent "offenders." Don't feel you have to make a whole bunch of changes at once. Try one idea a month, if needed.

* You may notice recycling, in the modern sense, is not on my list at all. That's because recycling uses up an inordinate amount of energy - and many towns only recycle a portion of what residents put out for recycling. The rest goes to the land fill.


How do you reduce your household waste?

Aug 1, 2011

Eating "Throw Away" Food

Maybe it's my frugal German heritage showing through, but I love learning about new ways to use food I used to think was only good for the compost bin or the chickens. And with food prices going up and up, who doesn't want to get more out of their grocery budget? Here are some recent ideas I've run across:

* Garbage Soup. Here's a very old idea that most Americans have lost track of: Keep your "throw away" bits of food and turn them into soup. Keep the ends and peelings (including the papery outer skin) of onions and garlic, vegetable and fruit peelings, broccoli and asparagus stems, scraps of meat, poultry and meat bones, and all that other kitchen "waste" you normally toss. Throw them in the freezer until you've accumulated enough to put them in a pot with some stock (or just water, if you've got poultry or meat bones). You'll need to use a wee bit of caution here. Just one or two small pieces of citrus peel is plenty; the same thing goes for pepper and leafy green scraps. If you prefer, you can strain this mixture and just use it as stock, sending the cooked up bits from plants (but not animals) to the compost bin.

Link
* Brussels Sprout Leaves. The smaller (no more than a woman's palm size) leaves at the top of the plant are great sliced and sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic. And if you lop off and eat the crown of leaves at the top of the plant, small balls of leaves will grow that can be eaten any way you eat Brussels sprouts; they taste a bit more cabbage-y than Brussels sprouts do.

* Potato Peelings. I prefer to leave the peels on; they pack some good nutrition. I even leave them in place when I'm making mashed potatoes. But if you prefer to remove them, try deep frying them in 350 degree F. oil. Sprinkle with salt and maybe some paprika.

* Root Veggie Tops. The leafy tops of carrots can be used just like parsley. The leafy tops of beets are delicious sliced into thin strips and sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and a little salt. The leafy greens of radishes can be cooked the same way.


* Watermelon Rinds & Seeds. The jalapeno pickled watermelon rinds I've made are terrific for pickle lovers who like a bit of a twang. But there's also the traditional, sweeter version using spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. If you don't can, you can just store the pickles in the fridge. You can also remove the green part of the rind and use the whitish part just like you'd use cucumbers. I also hear you can roast watermelon seeds and eat them!

* All Things Nasturtium. All parts of nasturtiums above the ground are edible. The flowers and leaves are mostly used in salads. The seed pods can be pickled.

* Sweet Potato Leaves. Both the leaves and stems of sweet potatoes are great in soups, stews, and sauteed. Stick to smaller leaves - no larger than a woman's palm.

* Lettuce stems. If you grow leafy lettuce, you can harvest the thick center stem once the weather gets warm and the lettuce leaves turn bitter. It's a little bit of trouble to peel those stems, but then you can cook them (roasted or sauteed are my preferences). They are tender and yummy.

* Pea, Kohlrabi, Cauliflower Leaves. If you choose the younger leaves of peas, they taste just like the peas themselves, and make a great addition to salads. Kohlrabi and cauliflower leaves can be cooked just like collards or other dark greens.

* Celery & Fennel Leaves. Use in small quantities, minced, to perk up and season a dish.

* Chard & Collard Ribs. If you purchase older plants with thick ribs, or you just let them grow too long in your garden, you can cut away the ribs and simmer them in a little wine, water, or stock, then drain and drizzle a little oil and a wee bit of salt.

* Corn Cobs Milk. Remove any remaining kernels and simmer with onions and carrots for a vegetable stock.

* Tomato Leaves & Stems. Wrap them in some cheesecloth and place in the soup pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking. They add a unique scent. Remove the cheesecloth bag after 10 minutes and toss the whole in the compost bin.

* Cabbage Mini Heads. Once you cut off the main head of cabbage, consider leaving the plant in place. It will grow mini heads of cabbage. Cut them off when they are small, and eat them like Brussels sprouts. Or wait till they get a bit bigger and eat them like cabbage.

* Strawberry Leaves. Dehydrate them and use them to make herbal tea.

* Rose Hips. If you have roses that produce hips (seed pods) when they are done blooming, wait until they get bright red, then harvest them. The pods are great for stews, tea, and jelly. For complete information on harvesting and using rose hips, check out this post.

* Citrus Peels. Use a wee bit in soups, stocks, or stews. Or peel away the white pith, dehydrate, and use chopped finely or minced in baked goods.

* Leek Ends. Most recipes call for only the white part of the leek, but the tougher greens are great in soups.

* Bolted Collards. Snip off the bolted ends (the seed head) of collards as soon as they appear and you can keep eating the leaves for a while. Then eat the bolted head, too. They taste a lot like broccoli, raw or cooked.

* Garlic Stems (Scapes). The tough stems leading to the bud on garlic plants are quite edible - and cutting the stems off encourages plants to grow bigger bulbs. The really tough part of the stems is good for making stock or adding to soups, then discarding before serving. The less tough part - and the bulb - can be chopped or minced and cooked just like garlic cloves.

For more ideas on what parts of produce you may be throwing away but could be eating, check out last year's post "Did You Know You Can Eat That?"

And now it's your turn! What "throw away" foods do you eat?

May 18, 2011

When the Compost Bin is Full

LinkUnless you have a very large compost pile, there inevitably comes a time when the compost bin is full but you still have materials that could go into it. Eventually the contents of the full compost bin will decompose further, making room for new compostable materials, but what should you do with compostable materials in the meantime?

* Start another compost bin. Having two or three bins is an excellent idea, if you have the room. While one bin is full and decomposing, you can fill other bins.

* Instead of composting them, refrigerate or freeze vegetable and fruit scraps to make stock with. Most of us don't think about using scraps for this - let alone fruit for this - but it's quite traditional.

* Make "Garbage Soup" with the fruit and veggie scraps you'd normally compost. It's yummy.

* Feed scraps to the chickens. Nearly any food you'd compost is excellent food for chickens, too. They will eat all vegetables and fruits, in addition to meat scraps. A small amount of bread, rice, or pasta is fine, also. Just don't give them anything rotten.

* Use paper products like cardboard for lasagna gardening. (See basic instructions here.)

* Dig a trench. The original compost pile was really a pit or trench where people buried their trash. Anything you'd put in a compost bin can go into a hole in the ground. Cover the compostable materials with dirt and the following year, the soil should be great for gardening. Sometimes instead of digging a trench, I lay compostable materials in low lying areas and cover them with dried leaves, wood chips, or bark mulch.

* Throw it in the trash. Although this won't do anything to improve your living space, compostable materials will do the same thing in the landfill as they do in your compost bin: Decompose into something good for the soil.

What do you do with compostable materials when your compost bin is full?

May 4, 2011

Bacon-Cooking Secrets

For those of you who consider bacon something you'd never eat because it's unhealthy, please scroll down to the *

I'm not a trained chef; however, I consider myself a good cook. Yet for years one seemingly simple dish evaded me: Cooking bacon so it didn't have over- or under-cooked sections. I researched the topic pretty heavily because my husband loves bacon; I was even hired to write an article covering expert tips on bacon cooking. I tried frying bacon in a pan, microwaving it, and baking it in the oven. I tried using a bacon iron, a cold skillet, and a hot skillet. But it wasn't until recently I began cooking up truly satisfactory bacon. Here's how I do it:

1. Choose the right pan. The ideal skillet is large and cast iron. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, choose any large, heavy skillet.

2. Preheat the skillet over medium heat.
To test the hotness of the pan, run your fingers under water, then flick a tiny amount of water in the skillet. If it sizzles, the pan is ready.

3. Cut the bacon in half, crosswise. Previously, I tried using bigger skillets to accommodate long bacon slices, but if the skillet is bigger than your stove's burner, the bacon will not cook evenly and you'll end up with fatty sections or sections that are over-cooked. The key to solving this problem is deceptively simple: Just make the bacon slices smaller.

4. Using tongs, place the bacon in the skillet without overcrowding. I put 3 pieces - perhaps 4, tops - in the skillet at one time.

5. Cook one side of the bacon until it shrivels and the edges are golden. Then turn the bacon using tongs and continue cooking. It doesn't hurt to turn the bacon several times.
Bacon nearly ready for turning.

6. Whenever you turn the bacon, use tongs to press down any ends that want to curl up.
It only takes a few seconds and then the bacon will lay flat naturally.

7. Remove the bacon just before it's reached the level of doneness you prefer. It will continue cooking after you remove it from the pan. Don't worry if each side of the bacon appears more or less cooked than the other side. Drain the bacon on 3 layers of paper towels.

8. Don't drain the skillet if you cook up another batch of bacon. The only time I drain the skillet is if the bacon drippings start covering the top of the bacon I'm cooking.

When all the bacon is done, feel free to use the drippings in the skillet for other foods you're cooking (like eggs). To avoid overgreasiness, you generally don't want more than a tablespoon of drippings in the skillet, however. Pour off the rest into a heat-proof measuring cup or similar container.

Once the drippings have cooled but aren't quite solid, I pour them into a canning jar, put the lid on, and store the drippings in the refrigerator. It keeps for months. You may also freeze it.

* Yes, I know, we've all been told bacon and bacon grease is terrible for us, but consider this: People have used lard (pork fat) for thousands of years, and processed fats (like vegetable oil) only recently. No study has linked poor health to lard, and many studies argue lard is better for us than a lot of the other fats we eat. Besides, nothing adds flavor to a dish like bacon drippings; it only takes a dab to do the trick!
For more information on lard as a cooking fat, check out this piece at About.com, another at The New York Times, and the documentary Fat Head.

Apr 13, 2011

Using Up a Whole Chicken

Once upon a time, I thought buying a whole chicken was a waste. You see, my family turned their noses up at dark meat, and I worried I was not only paying for meat we wouldn't eat, but bones I couldn't use. But I was just plain wrong. A whole chicken is a terrific deal - if you know how to use it.

What follows are examples of how I use a whole chicken, turkey, or other bird. I almost never buy any of these unless they are on sale, and then I usually buy several. But even if you purchase the bird full price, you're likely to save money with these methods.

Step 1: Roasting the Bird
Roast chicken is an easy, satisfying meal. It's also the first step toward using the entire bird - although if you prefer you could use a different cooking method, like grilling or using a rotisserie.
To roast a bird, unwrap it and remove anything inside - usually a neck and gizzards. Place these parts in an air tight container and place them in the fridge; you'll use them later. Rinse the bird, pat it dry, and season it. Here's my favorite method for seasoning and cooking chicken. Place the bird in a roasting pan; if you like, add vegetables like onions, carrots, potatoes, and parsnips, and sprinkle them around the bird. Then roast between 135 to 160 degrees F. until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F. While it's cooking, baste the chicken a few times with the pan drippings.
To serve this bird, cut off your family's favorite parts. In our case, that's the breast and perhaps the drumsticks. Serve with the roasted veggies.
Step 2: The Pickin's
There will be plenty of meat still left on the bird after this meal, even if you're feeding a crowd. And here's what I discovered: Although my family won't eat dark meat when it's served as a separate food, they will eat it without hesitation when it's added to other meals. For example, they like it just fine in rice, a casserole, or enchiladas.
So, after the first meal, remove all the meat from the bones, divide it into serving sizes, and place it in freezer bags. You will have enough meat from this to serve at least two more meals; when you're ready to use the meat, you can often just plop it into soup or something while it's still frozen.
Step 3: The Pan
After step 2, I spoon all the juices in the pan into a freezer container, being sure to also scoop up any bits of vegetables or chicken. You can use this liquid for basting, for making gravy or pan sauces, for sauteing, or for making your own stock.
Step 4: The Yuckies
Now all you have left are the bones, the gizzard, and the neck. Don't throw them out! Instead, pop them into the freezer until you have enough of them to make stock. Or pop them in the fridge and make stock the next day. Honestly, truly, stock is easy to make - and it's much better tasting and more healthy than store bought stock, broth, or bouillon. Click here for instructions on how to make stock.
What to use the stock for? Soup, stew, basting, stir frying, gravies, pan sauces, and in any recipe calling for broth or stock.
Step 5: Using Used Parts
Now all you're left with are the solids used to make stock: the bones, bits of meat, and bits of vegetables. The bones you can finally toss out. The veggies are perfect for the compost bin. The bits of meat, however, you should pick out and put in freezer bags. Stock-making loosens the bits of meat you couldn't remove from the bones previously, and there's plenty of meat in the neck, too. Use this meat to perk up things like rice, burritos or enchiladas, or soups.

And there! You've truly used up a whole chicken. It's a good, old fashioned way of cooking, but once you make a habit of it, you'll wonder why you ever put the bird to waste in the past. Not only have you saved money by not purchasing stock and different parts of chicken for various meals, but you've been a good steward, too. Now, what can you do with that whole ham...?

Feb 21, 2011

I Have Compost! (And What I'd Do Differently)

To the uninitiated, it may seem strange I'm so proud of my compost. It is, after all, just rotted garbage turned to dirt. However, there is something very satisfying about taking stuff you'd normally throw away and turning it into garden gold. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, making plants thrive - and store bought compost isn't cheap.

I've typed before about composting and how I recently obtained a tumbling composter. This weekend I harvested my first batch of compost from this tumbler - and I was very pleased. In fact, the results were much better than I anticipated.

I'd been putting off this "harvesting" for several weeks. I couldn't find a sieve locally, could only find very small ones online, and couldn't find screening of the correct size to make a homemade compost sifter. So I thought the job was going to be a big pain. Happily, it wasn't.

I simply donned some gloves and hand picked the top layer of not-fully-composted scraps, putting them in two buckets so I could return them to the composter when I was done. Then I used a shovel (and sometimes my hands) to dig out lots of dark, wonderful compost. I got a full wheelbarrow full (much more than I thought I'd get and enough to spread a thin layer over the top of my entire backyard veggie garden), and there was at least one worm for every centimeter of compost. (That's a terrific sign of nutrient-rich soil.)

Then I took a handful of the finished compost and popped it back into the composter, along with the not-yet composted scraps, to ensure lots of good microbes and worms still remained in the composter to speed up the process of decomposition.

It wasn't very messy - and I learned I couldn't have used a sieve, after all. The compost was much too damp for that.

Someday, perhaps I'll have two tumbling composters: one that can just sit and let the contents decompose, and one I'll regularly add scraps to. Other than this, I'd only change two things about my garden composting:

1. I'll add more egg cartons, used paper towels, and toilet paper and paper towel rolls to the pile. I only started doing that this month, and was delighted to see almost all of these items were fully composted - and the paper helps dry up my compost, which tends to be too damp. (NOTE: If you want to add used paper towels to your compost pile, just be sure not to use towels with cleaning chemicals on them. I'd also avoid towels with animal fats on them, as these could attract unwanted pests.)

2. I'll peel the labels off store-bought produce before composting. Those little labels take longer to compost and are a pain to pick out of finished compost. And since I hope to get chickens this year, I want to be especially careful to keep them out of my garden. If a hen eats a produce sticker, it could make her very ill - perhaps even causing death.

What about you? Have you had good results with your compost pile?

Aug 31, 2010

What to Do with Green Tomatoes

It appears we're going to have lots of unripe, green tomatoes this year. And while that's a little disappointing, I'm not disheartened. There are lots of great things to do with crunchy, rather tart green tomatoes. Here are a few:

* Ripen them! Even fully green tomatoes will ripen if you give them enough time. The easiest method is to lay them in a single layer in a cardboard box so no tomato is touching another tomato. Place them in a dark, cool location (like the garage) and cover with a couple layers of newspapers or a sheet. Check daily for ripe tomatoes. Or, to continue having tomatoes through Christmas, wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper, place in a single layer in a cardboard box, and place the box in a dark, cool location. Although these tomatoes won't taste quite as good as those picked ripe from the vine, they do taste a thousand times better than store bought tomatoes.

* Pickle 'em.

* Make green tomato pie or cake.

* Make green tomato relish or salsa.

* Make green tomato bread.

* Make green tomato catsup.

* Fry or saute them.

* Bake 'em.

* Make split pea and green tomato stew.

* Make green tomato raspberry jam or green tomato chutney.

* Roast 'em.

* Make eggs Benedict with green tomatoes.




Jun 15, 2010

Eating Bolted Vegetables

While I was away from home, my vegetable garden grew several feet. This is exciting - except that some veggies decided to bolt. (That is, they produced seed heads.) Most vegetables are inedible once they bolt; they become tough and bitter. For this reason, I had to compost most of my spinach (see the photo, left). However, I was delighted to discover collards (yes, I'm typing about collards again!) taste fine if you snip off the seed head early. They continue to grow new leaves, too.

And - lo! - those collard seed heads are edible! They taste a lot like young broccoli. We've been eating them raw, but you could just as easily cook them.

All this made me wonder if other bolted vegetables are edible. A quick Google search turned up only one interesting fact: You can eat bolted lettuce stems. Peel and steam them, then add them to a salad, serve them on their own, or add them to a vegetable medley. Delicious!



Apr 7, 2010

What to Do with Overripe Bananas

We go through a lot of bananas at my house, but occasionally, they ripen faster than we can eat them. Even though over ripe bananas are excellent for baking, I don't always have time to make a loaf of banana bread or muffins before the bananas turn to mush.

Fortunately, you can freeze over ripe bananas quite easily. Just place one banana (its peel in tact) into a freezer bag, seal, and place in the freezer. Bananas stored this way will keep for months.

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Mar 11, 2010

Did You Know You Can Eat That?

If you'd like to try something new at your next meal, or if you have a small yard and want to make the most of it when growing edibles, think about eating parts of vegetables that are often thrown away. Not every part of every vegetable is safe or pleasant to eat, but you might be surprised by the delicious nature of many "secondary edible" parts of veggies. Here are a few examples:

Try eating the young leaves and flowers off snap beans.


Beet, radish, turnip, onion, and carrot leaves are also yummy. Try sauteing them like collard greens or chopping them into salads. Young leaves off English and Southern peas are good, too.


Broccoli and cauliflower leaves and flower stems are a great addition to a salad.


The unfurled tassel and young leaves off sweet corn can be cooked into a garnish.

The stem tips and young leaves off cucumber may be sautéed or chopped into salads. The stems and leaves from sweet potatoes are edible, too.


Okra leaves are delicious, too.

Parsley roots are edible and are often roasted or sauted.

The young leaves, flowers, and yes, the seeds, from squash are excellent. 


What other "secondary edible" parts do you eat off your vegetables?

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Jan 30, 2010

Dollar Stretching Saturday: Meal Planning

I'm in awe of people who can go to the grocery store without planning meals ahead of time and end up with enough meals to get them through a week or two. I have no idea how they do that! But whether you're able to not plan and still have enough home cooked meals or whether you end up having to order pizza or hamburgers a few times a week, learning to menu plan is a huge money (and sanity!) saver.

I know some of you think you can't possibly plan every meal before you shop. But if I can, you can. It's not hard if you have a simple game plan. And, trust me, you'll enjoy the savings in your grocery bill - and the way you become that much better of a steward of the money God gave you. Here's how I do it:

A day or two before I know I'll go grocery shopping (usually around my husband's pay day), I sit down with my cookbook. I rely mostly on a binder full of recipes I've used for years, but I try to incorporate one or two new recipes every few weeks. I also have on hand a pen and a piece of paper.

On the far right hand side of the paper, I write numbers - one for each day I need a dinner. So if I'm buying for two weeks, I write the numbers 1 through 14 vertically in the right hand corner. Then I begin writing the names of recipes behind those numbers, always trying to share ingredients, if possible. (More on that in a moment.)

As I write down the meal names in the right hand corner, I write down the ingredients I need to buy on the left hand side of the paper.

When I'm done planning dinners, I think about the staple foods we eat for breakfast and lunch. They are pretty simple at our house (eggs, sausage, ingredients for bread making, etc.), but if you like something more complicated, you can make a list for breakfast and lunch, just as you did for dinner.

When I'm done, my paper is organized like this:








Ingredients

beef stew meat
onions (3)
celery
cabbage
carrots
beets
Meals

1. Borscht
2. Shepherd's Pie
Now here's a vital step: When I'm done, I tear off the right hand corner and post it on my refrigerator. I now have a list of meals I have ingredients for and I don't have to try to remember what I had planned - which usually results in forgetting and letting fresh ingredients rot in the fridge.

Then I take my list of ingredients to the grocery store and cross off items as I put them in my cart.
This method saves money because you'll only buy what you need. No more running to the store (and using up fuel) to buy a few items. No more ordering dinner in.

Once you've tried this a few times, you can save yourself even more money by trying to plan meals so ingredients are shared. This way nothing goes to waste, and you actually end up buying less food.

For example, on day one, I might make borscht (a Russian stew), which includes half a head of cabbage, plus beef stew meat. So for another evening, I'll choose a meal that uses up that second head of cabbage, and on another night, a meal that also uses beef stew meat (because it's cheaper to buy a larger package).

You might notice I didn't mention looking at your grocery store's sales flier while making your meal plan. personally, I'm more apt to plan without knowing the sales, but if I spot something at a great price, I'll pick it up and store it for another time. I recommend that if you're not used to meal planning, you try shopping this way, too. Once you're a confident meal planner, then consider adding the sales flyer into the mix. For now, keep it as simple as possible.

Give it a try!

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Nov 14, 2009

Dollar Stretching Saturday: Powdered Milk

Before I had two small children drinking milk on a daily basis, I'd buy milk for cereal or recipes and find that it went bad before I could use it all up. What a waste! That's when I learned the wonder of powdered milk.

If you only use milk for cooking and baking, or if you drink skim milk already, powdered milk is your best friend. It lasts (unopened) for at least a year and a half; after that, it's still good, but not as nutritious. You can buy it in large or small packages, and you need only use just as much as is called for whatever recipe you're making.

For cooking, it works every bit as well as any other milk you might buy, even though it is skim.

Using powdered milk is easy; just add some water, according to the package directions, and stir. Just be sure to store powdered milk in a dry, dark location, like the pantry.

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