These waste-reduction kitchen tips are my small contribution to the growing conversation on using what we have during quarantine…and hopefully beyond.
The coronavirus quarantine has really ignited the public passion for home cooking and baking. Bakeries everywhere are helping people learn to make and use their own sourdough starter and my news feed I’m getting suggestions like pandemic sourdough waffles and ‘cake that doesn’t use any milk, eggs or butter is perfect for self-isolation‘. It’s clear we’re all on board the #quarantinecooking bandwagon.
I’ve been paying close attention to the discussions online and in real life about the security of our food supply during this period of seemingly global social isolation – not only because of my personal interest as a consumer of food, but also a person writing in the food space and deeply invested in rethinking the way we approach the kitchen.
A lot of people in the food space have been very vocal about the need to properly manage our food supply during the ‘coronavirus crisis’. And they are absolutely right.
Writing from Mykonos, Alex Andreou of @themagicbayleaf posted the following graphic to his feed earlier this week.
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Writing from Bucharest, Adina Chitu of @pancake_planet posted about a cheesecake she made using ‘what you have handy’.
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Get creative with what you have handy ? this challenge is starting to change my mind set and life values. So I had some cream cheese in the fridge, some canned peaches and a handful of biscuits and surprisingly I managed to bake my best cheesecake so far ? I’ve tried to use an optimistic colour palette that we’ll make us think of spring ???? hope you like it! So stay positive guys and be creative! . . . #pancakeplanet #foodfluffer #foodphotographers #mywhitetable #isolationcreation #cheesecakelove #hautescuisines #beautifulfood #tv_stilllife #still_life_gallery #tv_neatly #food52grams #myquietbeauty #global_ladies #ourfoodstories #thebakefeed #iamsomartha #eattheseasons #eatcaptureshare #bakeitforward #bakingfromscratch #bonappetitmag #saveurmag #deliciousfood #foodblogfeed
While it’s great that the coronavirus crisis has reignited our collective passion for home cooking, we should also consider changing our habits so we focus more on reducing waste and making the most of what we have in general – not just during the crisis but as a regular part of our kitchen habits.
It just takes a few easy to practice habits to make your kitchen thriftier, greener, more cost-effective, and more sustainable for the health of people and planet.
5 thrifty kitchen tips to make your food go farther
1. Freeze Herbs & tomato paste
Some flavouring ingredients come in much larger quantities than most people can use before it goes bad. That’s why it makes sense to learn to store food that you can’t use in time.
Fresh herbs can be ‘fresh’ frozen, making them stretch out and also extra convenient to use. My preferred method is to thoroughly wash herbs and then spread them out on a clean kitchen cloth to dry for a couple hours or over night. When these perfectly dry herbs are frozen, they maintain their shape better.
Likewise tomato paste can be purchased in larger quantities, cut into smaller pieces and stored in an ice cube try for example.
2. Save Bones & veg for stock
Save your chicken bones to make stock i.e. bone broth. Stock is a nutrient dense food that gives you a calorie and protein boost. Throwing away your chicken bones is like wasting food. Why discard when you can repurpose and use the stock to make extra flavourful soups, sauces, and stews?
I have a reusable plastic container that I keep in the freezer at all times. Anytime we eat meat with bones, I put the bones in there to accumulate for stock. This works great with any bones: chicken, pork, beef or even fish.
Likewise, your stock pile ( ?see what I did there) is also a great place for herb stems, vegetable butts and peels.
When you’re ready to make stock, toss the bones into a stock pot on high heat and add oil once they’re more or less defrosted. Brown the bones a bit to bring out some nice flavours, then add some onion, carrot, celery, your veg and herb stem stockpile plus whatever seasonings you like – black peppercorns, thyme and rosemary are good go-tos.
3. Save pan drippings for extra flavour
When you roast or fry chicken skin, a lot of extra fat renders out and remains in the pan. Rather than throwing this perfectly usable fat down the drain, pour it into a jar and keep it in the fridge.
It’s great as a fat for soups and stews but you could also get creative and make some chicken fat roasted potatoes or the like. A great flavour boost for a lot of different meals.
You can save the drippings from either roasted chicken or fried chicken. To save the fat from roast chicken, line the pan with parchment paper or other reusable baking mat and after baking allow the pan to cool enough. When it’s safe enough to handle, pour or spoon it into a jar.
For fried chicken, do the same – you may want to pour it through a sieve if it’s full of burnt bits. Sometimes if there’s a lot of excess fat on chicken, I cut it off and fry it just for the drippings. It’s a great way to make use of all pieces of the meat.
4. Repurpose stale bread
There are so many good things you can do with stale bread. Make your own herb croutons like I did for white bean soup or tossed into a salad.
You can also try your hand at ribollita, Italian bread soup (which happens to be vegan). Another great option is French toast – either the traditional sweet way or (my personal favourite) savoury with cheese and fresh or dried herbs.
Just add eggs, cheese, a bit of milk, and whatever flavourings you like or do something similar to my recipe here – Mediterranean style with black olives, tomatoes and Italian herbs. See also Savoury French toast bake using what you have.
The same principle goes for rice – fry it up with some garlic, ginger, chillies, sesame oil, soy sauce, egg and your protein of choice for a quick and easy fried rice.
5. Freeze pasta water as an easy thickener
Pasta water is a really underutilized kitchen ingredient. Bon Appetit has even called pasta water liquid gold. It makes a great thickener – just toss it in to any sauce, soup, or stew you want to thicken like I did for this Ethiopian berbere spice pasta sauce that I used to make Ethiopian lasagna.
The best part is that it’s free and really easy to save and use. After you cook pasta just reserve some of the leftover water in small reusable plastic containers. Try to only fill your containers to 80% full, since water expands when it freezes and could break your containers.
Pro tip: After you’ve cooked the pasta and removed it from the water, keep cooking the starchy pasta water until it reduces down to a really thick consistency – that will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to space savings.
6. Make your own rather than buying packaged
There are some instances when the personal cost in time and effort make it infeasible to make your own of something. Like homemade macaroni – a labour of love for sure, but not absolutely necessary (unless the macaroni runs out and you need that mcc and cheese fix – which I would totally understand).
In other instances it makes perfect sense to make your own rather than buying a package. For example, since moving to the Netherlands I’ve fallen in love with the soup vegetable mixes available at supermarket here like Albert Heijn. They’re pre-cut mixes of finely diced vegetables that go great in soup – parsley, leek, carrots, celery, and cauliflower are common ingredients.
I love the convenience of these soup mixes but I really hate that each and every bag I buy is another bag that’s going to end up in a landfill. I can’t support that kind of practice anymore given the precarious state of the environment.
The only tenable solution if I want to have my soup mix and protect the environment too, is to make my own mix sans packaging.
You can also make your own soup mix. It’s just as convenient if you make it in bulk and freeze some for later use. Two leeks, 6 large carrots, 6 stalks of celery, and two handfuls of parsley is a great starting point for two rounds of soup mix.
Other soup vegetables that freeze well include cauliflower, broccoli, peas, peppers, spinach, kale, chard, onions, and any herbs you like.
Other make-it-yourself ideas: There are other foods that we buy often in plastic packaging that we can easily make in bulk at home. Hummus is a really easy one – all you need are a few cans of chickpeas (or better yet a bag of dried chickpeas for more flavour and less processing), tahini, lemon, and cayenne.
You could also make your own mirepoix (the classic combination of finely diced onion, carrot and celery that forms the backbone of many French and Creole dishes) and root vegetable mix for roasting – try sweet potato, squash, beets and parsnips – starchy root vegetables freeze especially well since they have a low water content.
7. Switch to reusable containers, food storage and baking materials
For many of us having aluminium foil, plastic wrap, and parchment or wax paper is standard but these products can be super wasteful and bad for the environment not only because of the constant waste they produce, but also because of the work that goes into processing a steady supply of them.
There are a lot of great reusable alternatives that are becoming increasingly available. In the past year I’ve started using silicone, fabric, and beeswax wraps for food storage.
Recently I also picked up a few different silicone baking mats and a set of reusable permanent parchment paper to curb my parchment paper habit. So far I love these nifty little mats. I’ve roasted chicken and baked blueberry and cinnamon scones on them and they perform just as well as conventional parchment paper. More than anything I really love that I’m throwing out less than I used to.
Learning to reduce waste and use what you have with waste reduction kitchen tips is a really important part of kitchen management whether it’s during quarantine or beyond.
Since we all seem to be doing so much quarantine cooking, why not also start to implement some good practices in your kitchen to make the most use of the food we have. Do as the lovely Nigella does and be extravagant with food, but never wasteful.
If you’re up early and want to listen to a cosy chat I had with @sturdyAlex about food and cooking under quarantine, you can get it on these linkshttps://t.co/ISqWfpjbZshttps://t.co/ZkIwNLOhMfhttps://t.co/Ta8GZ2FtyI pic.twitter.com/c5tv9PWTdY
— Nigella Lawson (@Nigella_Lawson) April 7, 2020