Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reusing Food (Some New and Unusual Suggestions)

The quintessential food 'reuse' is banana bread -- which has always struck me as a slightly inefficient way to use up a small amount of bananas, though I'll eat it! -- but I'd like to propose a few others that you may not have thought of.

In no particular order, some kitchen items you don't have to just throw away:

  • Bacon grease
  • Juice from canned pineapple
  • Whey
  • Butter wrappers
  • Day-old (or unwanted heels of) bread
  • Leftover oatmeal or other breakfast-y cooked grains

We've stretched our food dollar for a long time by buying minimal meat. Of course, we do use jars of bouillon and stock, as well as large, cheap cuts of meat that I butcher into dinky portions myself; but one of the other real tricks I rely on is my can of bacon grease. We eat bacon every so often, and I keep the drained grease handy for sauteing some foods in instead of butter, or dolloping into soups as a flavorful substitute for ham. I feel like at least maybe it helps balance out my extremely expensive taste in olive oil...

I don't know why it didn't occur to me earlier that when I drained canned pineapple, I was pouring actual juice down the sink. I suppose because most other canned fruits are just packed in sugar water, which I'm happy to dump out. Now, though, I get out my ice cube tray and pour the juice in there. When it's all frozen, I store it in a ziptop bag and use it in smoothies. (Along with those bananas that didn't get eaten, right?)

I've mentioned my uses of whey in a post last summer, since I've been making a lot of homemade yogurt and straining it; it probably doesn't apply to most of my readers, but I find that I love using it in muffins and breads instead of milk. The baked goods seem more tender somehow -- I'm guessing the cultured, acidic whey is similar in effect to recipes that call for buttermilk. And it saves me buying the equivalent amount of fresh milk!

A friend mentioned saving butter wrappers to grease pans with, and so for the last year I've been experimenting with that. Even when there's barely any residue on the wrapper, it's often still surprisingly effective for simple jobs such as brownies. I don't feel like it's been a huge change, but I used to have to buy cooking spray regularly, and now I have a can starting to rust that's still mostly full. (I do take the shortcut and use spray for muffin tins, I decided that wasn't worth the extra time.)

Old, half-used, or even failed-and-fallen bread is one of my most versatile reuse items. For example, we often cube it up and make it into croutons. (I gave a daughter free rein last time we did this, and when I wasn't paying attention she used both a spicy Cajun mix and an abundance of cayenne pepper to season them...that was a fiery salad!) There's also strata or bread pudding, which is either a sweet or savory casserole composed of bread soaked in eggs and milk, with other delicious ingredients layered in. That's pretty ambitious, though, and rarely does my cooking energy coincide with stale bread -- if I'm not on top of things enough to use the bread while it's fresh, I'm probably not going to have the prep time for a strata. Luckily, the simplest and laziest way to use bread is to throw it in a food processor, crusts and all, and make it into crumbs which I store in the freezer. Besides the many obvious uses, one of my favorites is in a dumpling recipe, which is included at the end of this post.

I finally got brave enough to risk a batch of bread last year, and found that you can indeed substitute cooked cracked wheat, oatmeal, rice, or most any leftover breakfast grain instead of whole wheat flour in a loaf. As it is, when I make breads with whole wheat flour, I aim for a ratio of two cups of whole wheat flour to one cup of bread flour (it doesn't have to divide out perfectly, as long as it's close); and it's been successful multiple times when I've substituted equal amounts of breakfast leftovers instead of the whole wheat, as long as there's that bread flour in there to provide some structure to the dough. Depending on the moistness of the leftovers, you occasionally will find the dough stickier and have to knead in extra flour, but it hasn't been a huge factor for me. Some grains will make the loaf nubblier, some will melt right in, but either way I'm thrilled to not have to waste food on those days when I overestimate the oatmeal.

There are more that I can think of, but those are the most useful highlights. And, to round it out, here's my favorite dumpling recipe, featuring bread crumbs as an ingredient:

Feather Dumplings

1 c. flour

1/2 c. bread crumbs
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 T. melted butter
1/3 c. milk
parsley and pepper to taste

Combine the flour, bread crumbs, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. In another bowl lightly beat the egg, melted butter, and milk together, then stir into dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Stir in parsley and pepper. Drop spoonfuls of dough on top of bubbling broth, cover, and steam for 20 minutes. (They expand a fair amount. ) Makes about a dozen dumplings. 

Our family always wishes there were more dumplings, because there are rarely leftovers, but it's pretty impossible to double this unless you have multiple massive pots of simmering soup to use.

1 comment:

  1. Good ideas! I especially dig the pineapple juice cubes tip. Thanks!