My recent influx of guests left me with a refrigerator stuffed with leftovers. I’m not complaining; I actually don’t mind eating the same thing over and over and over.
But when I realized the gargantuan bag of fresh spinach my sister-in-law brought from a discount warehouse was going to become yuck before I could make one more spinach salad or smoothie, I decided to get creative.
Thumbing through “Recipes to CHOMP On” published by the Auxiliary at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, I found a recipe for spinach soufflé (page 51). Key ingredient: 2 packages frozen chopped spinach. So into the steamer went my giant bag of fresh spinach … a perfect substitute. Garlic clove. Check. While I was at it, I chopped up the last of a leftover onion and threw it into the mix.
In place of 3 beaten eggs in the recipe, I used up the remaining contents of a carton of liquid eggs sitting in my fridge. Olive oil. Yep. And score! My cheese drawer had just enough leftover Parmesan cheese to top off the recipe.
We Americans waste about 90 billion pounds of edible food every year, say nutrition experts. And when food is squandered, so is the land, water and energy used to produce it.
We can do better, says registered dietitian Alice Henneman from the University of Nebraska Extension Service. Here are some practical suggestions to keep edible food out of the trash and into service for our health and our environment:
Shop in your refrigerator before going to the store. Plan at least one “use it up” meal each week.
Search for recipes with the ingredients you need to use (such as 2 pounds of fresh spinach.) Here’s a good site paid for with your tax dollars: What’s Cooking? at www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov.
Chop and store mature onions in freezer bags for future use.
Puree leftover vegetables and add to pasta sauce. (Great way to add veggies to kids diets, by the way.)
Mix chopped fresh herbs in a little olive oil and freeze in individual ice cube trays to pull out at your convenience.
Freeze rinds from Parmesan cheese and use later to flavor soups or stews.
Squeeze the juice from aging lemons and limes and freeze into ice cubes to flavor water and other beverages.
Tell yourself, I’m being creative! when — rather than buy more food — you substitute ingredients in a recipe with food you have on hand. Use 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder in place of a garlic clove for example. Or peel, seed and chop a medium tomato as a flavorful substitute for each tablespoon of tomato paste called for in a recipe. Check out The Cook’s Thesaurus at www.foodsubs.com for other reasonable substitutions.
Use aging bread to make salad croutons. Or pulse into breadcrumbs for use in recipes.
Got more ideas? Send them to me and I’ll include in a future column.