By now you should know that I’m a big fan of keeping things simple and affordable. One of my favorite places to practice this is in the kitchen. Some of the best culinary inventions were born of a need for frugality, convenience, or both (Think pizza, soup, and croutons). For someone like me who is one part lazy, two parts budget-conscious and three parts control-freak, finding ways to reduce waste in the kitchen satisfies my need for easy, cheap yet homemade cooking in one fell swoop. What could be better than saving myself time, money and guilt all at the same time? (Well, besides eating all the yummy results of my efforts?) All it takes is a freezer, a little planning and a few new habits in order to get started.Whether your freezer is stocked full of ice cream and frozen pizza or you use it primarily for taking advantage bulk deals on meat and other expensive ingredients, here are a few items you can store in this under-utilized appliance to you save time and money and reduce waste:
- Vegetable Scraps – Start saving all those cores, ends, leaves, husks and peels in a zip-loc freezer bag. (Make sure they are clean and only save scraps that are not beginning to rot.) No need to separate by vegetable…the more variety, the better. When the bag is full, dump the contents into a large stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, then strain for a tasty homemade vegetable broth for use in soups and stews. (Tip: Skip the salt; you can add it to your recipe later and eliminating it from the broth gives you more options in how to use it.)
- Bread ends and stale (not moldy) leftover bread and rolls – Process into crumbs using a food processor to make homemade bread crumbs or cut into cubes, spritz with oil or butter, season and bake until crunchy for homemade croutons.
- Crushed chips, crackers, or pretzels – Don’t throw out those last few crumbs with the bag…freeze them for later. These make a great crunchy topping for casseroles, soups and salads.
- Leftover coffee – Bottom of the pot gone cold? Pour it into ice cube trays and use it to chill your iced coffee without watering it down. (You can also keep a pitcher of the leftover coffee in the refrigerator for use in iced coffee drinks.)
- Bones – Any kind of bones can be boiled with some of your vegetable scraps for a tasty broth.
- Butter wrappers – These are convenient and less messy than cooking spray for greasing baking pans.
- Juice from cans of fruit or tomatoes – Pour these into small containers or ice cube trays and use to cool drinks without watering them down, in smoothies, and to thin or add flavor to soups or stews. Toss fresh fruit in leftover pineapple juice to keep it from browning.
- Herbs – I hate having to spend $2 on a huge bunch of parsley or cilantro when I only need 50 cents worth. Instead of letting it rot and wilt in your fridge, chop it up and freeze it in ice cubes for later use or add it to your vegetable scrap bag to flavor your next batch of broth.
- Ripe bananas – Peel them, mash them and freeze them for later use in delicious banana bread and muffins.
- Sweet Potatoes – Did you buy the 5 lb. bag when you only needed 2? Wash them, prick with a fork and nuke in the microwave on high for about 5 minutes or until soft. Scoop out the center and mash and freeze for use in lots of yummy recipes.
- Leftovers – Even if you have just one serving left over from dinner, freeze it for a tasty brown bag lunch at the office one day in the future when you don’t have anything else prepared. This takes the pressure off yourself to eat it before it goes bad. You can also make extra and freeze individual portions for this purpose. Leftover pasta, rice, barley, etc. thaw nicely and work well in soups, salads and casseroles.
The sky is the limit on other things you can freeze, from lemon zest to extra frosting or cookie dough. Be realistic when you are shopping and only buy what you need, but when you find yourself with obviously more than your family can easily consume, freeze it before it goes bad. Not only will you reduce waste, but these little gems just may come to your rescue the next time you find yourself in a pinch.
Share the wealth! Comment below and let us know what you save and how you use it.