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Mar 5, 2008 07:56 AM

under-used treasure or garbage? what ingredient do you think people are wasting?

2 nights ago i made a really delicious gnocchi dish, with shrimp and leeks served in a lightly spiced shrimp stock, made from the shells of the shrimp and a few aromatics and spices. (so yummmy) I use a similar stock often as a base for sauces when I cook shrimp, whether stir-frying sauteing or whatever. It took maybe 10 minutes to make, and always adds such depth of flavor.

So i would say shrimp shells get my vote for the most under-used treasure in the kitchen, more often just tossed in the garbage, than mined for flavor.

what gets your vote?

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  1. The green leaves from celery stalks. They work well in some boquet garni if you want to incorporate the bitterness of celery without including it in the dish.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Paul Weller

      on a similar note: Fennel fronds. I chop them up to add to my fennel salad.

      1. re: moh

        and not just the fronds, but the stalks, as well. when i make chicken stock, i use the bulb, then make chicken veggie soup with the fennel stalks, which i use as celery -- along with carrots and spinich or kale.

        makes me crazy when i see the cooking show people just toss them.

      2. re: Paul Weller

        Parsley and cilantro stalks are great too!

        1. re: guerrilagourmet

          Agree. And the also the cilantro roots are fantastic in marinades - especially in south-east Asian food. It makes it taste more like the "real thing" . . . a lot of work though b/c you have to clean off the dirt thoroughly and grind them.

          1. re: cinnamon girl

            Cinnamon girl, I keep my bunches of coriander (cilantro ) in a glass of water in the fridge. They stay perky a bit longer and when I want to use the roots, the dirt has mostly soaked off and is a sediment in the bottom of the glass. Just rinse and pulverise as desired.

          2. re: guerrilagourmet

            I love snacking on cilantro stalks, I pull out all the juice by running the stalk between my teeth.

            Cilantro is very healthy too, so I'd hate to waste any of it. My grandma used to snack on a big plate of raw herbs with every meal and she has the loveliest teeth!

            1. re: guerrilagourmet

              It flat-out makes me mad when I see people throwing away parsley and cilantro stems. They're yummy AND crunchy and I ove then almost more than the leaves. Almost.

              1. re: EWSflash

                Herb stems are also great to throw on coals when barbecuing. My best surprising discovery of a "throw away" food was reading in gourmet magazine that in Mexico they puree CANTALOUPE SEEDS with water, strain, and serve chilled. I tried it and it makes a really (almost too) sweet fruit drink. It was exotic and refreshing.

                1. re: DollySundstrom

                  I'm going to try this, it sounds great. Love canteloupe!

                  1. re: DollySundstrom

                    excellent idea! now i won't throw them out for the sparrows.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        oh, but they get lots of stale bread!

              2. re: Paul Weller

                Have to agree. The leaves on the celery stalks are so full of flavor. I use them like I would parsley. In salads, stock and soups. Never throw them away.

                1. re: scubadoo97

                  Yep and my current favorite way to eat them is to sort of bend them in half and scoop into hummus...really great! Celery stalks in hummus is very good but I love the leaves with hummus even better!

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    I had no idea people threw them away! I buy celery for the leaves ... have to have a fresh bunch each time I cook, so I can have the whole heart. And then I cook the outer stalks for the dogs.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      Actually, I like the celery leaves better than the stalks.

                    2. re: Paul Weller

                      I put the celery leaves in pesto, too. Works well with marjoram and parsley.

                      1. re: Gooseberry

                        I always put celery leaves and stalks in soups and stews. I also use the full stalks from green onions.

                        1. re: FoodieKat

                          If I don't have an immediate use for the celery tops, I throw them in the freezer where they sit happily until I'm ready to make soup.

                      2. re: Paul Weller

                        I don't remember if I got this from The Gift of Southern Cooking or Cook's Illustrated, but I put celery leaves in my frying oil when I make fried chicken, and it adds a sweet, clear note to the flavor.

                        1. re: Paul Weller

                          The chopped celery leaves can be used when combined with green olives & garlic a little lemon juice & olive oil for an appetizer. Check out "Verdura" by Viana La Place for the recipe.

                          And in Chicken Soup too.....

                        2. Bones are incredibly under-utilized. Whenever I roast chicken or get a rotisserie bird from the store, I save the carcass for stock. Friends always throw out what I consider gold!

                          And in the vein of using shrimp shells, when I was learning to cook as a kid, I was taught never to throw away shrimp heads because that was where all the flavor was. Throw them in a little hot water and pound with a mortar to extract.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JungMann

                            Amen to that!!! I get so many comments when I cook using homemade stock. "how do you get it to taste soooo good???"

                          2. The delicious tidbits (neck, stomach, liver, heart) that come with a whole bird. Neck and heart go in the water for a quick boil, neck gets gnawed off, heart eaten in 2 bites. Stomach and liver are added to gravy. Nice.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: linguafood

                              I think you mean "gizzard", not "stomach".

                              1. re: uptown jimmy

                                Oh well, whatever that rather chewy intestinal thingee is besides the usual neck, liver and heart. Call it what you want.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  It's not "what I want". It's called a gizzard. Chickens also have an actual stomach, and the gizzard fills an ancilliary role in helping to process food.

                                  I grew up eating them, and I love them passionately. I can't count the number of times I've purchased packages of gizzards and hearts, fried them up, and eaten them with gusto.

                                  It's one of my pet peeves that the "humane" chickens I buy at Earth Fare don't include the giblets. What are they doing with the giblets, throwing them away? I want my giblets.

                                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                                    Thanks, jimmy :-D. As a non-native speaker, I appreciate the correction.

                                    I understand your disappointment over left-out giblets. What IS up with that, anyway?

                                    1. re: uptown jimmy

                                      have you guys ever had gizzard sausages? *drool* :)

                                      1. re: uptown jimmy

                                        I investigated that at Earth Fare several years ago. The situation wasn't because the chicken was humanely raised. It was because the company that Earth Fare sources their chicken from did not have the equipment to bag & reinsert the gizzards, etc. and it wasn't cost effective to do it by hand. They were a newish producer and hoped to eventually grow to the point that the equipment would be feasible.

                                  2. re: linguafood

                                    Yes! the neck is the most prized part of the chicken in my household, we all fight over it!! It gets all the spices jammed in from whatever one is cooking and tastes so yummy!

                                  3. Bacon fat. It's like throwing butter in the trash!

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: jvozoff

                                      Yup. I bake my bacon in the oven, and use the fat to season my cast iron and fry my tatercakes.

                                      1. re: jvozoff

                                        Amen to that! Frying potatoes or a grilled cheese in bacon fat is heavenly!

                                        1. re: BesottedGourmet

                                          Rub baking potatoes with bacon fat before they hit the oven or grill. Makes the best fried potatoes..or just baked potatoes.

                                        2. re: jvozoff

                                          OH yeah! Best thing in the world that my mama makes is just spaghetti noodles with canned tomatoes (of course home canned or frozen is best but store bought works fine) with 1 or 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease, salt and lots o' pepper.......YUMMO! This is my #1 comfort food.

                                          1. re: honey2emmylace

                                            That sounds so good! My mama saved bacon (and goose and duck) fat in a special brown crockery dish that was kept in the fridge. After school or sports we would come home and snack on it. Smeared it on sourdough bread, added a sprinking of salt... or thin slices of sweet onion....

                                          2. re: jvozoff

                                            Ahh, ahem - nobody has yet mentioned saving bacon fat for making refried beans! Talk about heavenly. Especially if you saved some crumbled bacon to mix into the beans. As is, that's delicious, but you can augment the refried beans with garlic, comino, and other spices dictated by your delight. If you love curry, try that, too. Not Mexican? Maybe so, but deliciocity should know NO BORDERS!!

                                            This mixture, spread on a flour tortilla with a nice respectable slab of jack or mozzarella cheese, wrapped up and fried on a griddle in a small amount of oil (till the cheese melts and the tortilla is browned and crispy), is what I call an outstanding burrito. With salsa picante, of course, on the side. Maybe some sour cream, too.

                                            Bacon fat has countless uses, and in a covered container does not need refrigeration, as long as it is pure fat, and not containing any of the bacon juices. That isn't a problem if you fry the bacon very crispy.

                                            But I'm by no means done! I have a number of treasures that people usually throw away, and am posting some of them here.

                                            1. re: fastermx

                                              Re- your first sentence- maybe it's a given? It sure to hell is for me.

                                          3. All good suggestions so far. I would add the stem of brocolli! Peel the thick skin and savor the fresh, crispy inside! The BEST! My dog loves veggies, and I've found she digs the lettuce core, diced, so I never toss that now.

                                            41 Replies
                                            1. re: scuzzo

                                              Amen! When my mom and I used to cook dinner it was understood how broccoli division went - she got the florets and I got the stalks. Better to me than artichoke hearts.

                                              1. re: scuzzo

                                                The stems make the best broccoli slaw! Just peel and slice super thin.

                                                1. re: scuzzo

                                                  Agreed! My mom always peeled the stalks, sliced them and included them in her stir-fried broccoli. When I grew up, I never understood why I never saw anyone else cook the stalks. The first time I cooked the stalks for my husband, he was so surprised at how good they were. He had always just thrown them out. Such a waste.

                                                  1. re: scuzzo

                                                    my mom's favorite part of a cabbage is the core...she steams it and dips in soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions and red pepper flakes. yum.

                                                    1. re: soypower

                                                      mine too... i make sweet n sour cabbage and love the core pieces... in fact, i covet them!

                                                      1. re: soypower

                                                        I use broccoli stalks in my stir frys. It has a pleasant crunch.

                                                        1. re: FoodieKat

                                                          They also make a good cream of broccoli soup. I've also diced them fairly small, saute in butter until tender, then use them with cheddar cheese as an omlette filling.

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            Diced broccoli stems has never occurred to me. Hmmm. I could probably put that into fried rice.

                                                            1. re: saltwater

                                                              I've always peeled them and sliced them into coins.

                                                              1. re: Patrincia

                                                                We take the "bark" off and then just cut them up and use them in whatever we're having the florets in.

                                                              2. re: saltwater

                                                                peeled and shredded broccoli stalks make brocco-slaw.

                                                            2. re: FoodieKat

                                                              I have made a really yummy broccoli slaw from the stalks... very pretty too

                                                            3. re: soypower

                                                              We loved cabbage cores as kids! Just raw crunchy snacks.

                                                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                    No sir, I'm made of sterner stock than that!

                                                                1. re: Bookwich

                                                                  And I like fresh pineapple cores too...

                                                              1. re: scuzzo

                                                                yuumm the stalks are so good for soup.

                                                                1. re: jenniesue

                                                                  steamed and chopped broccoli stalks are one of my favorite ways to stealthily get veg into my preschooler.

                                                                  1. re: jenniesue

                                                                    Hmm. I never put broccoli in my soups, because I'm afraid the flavor will take over. Fine if it's something like broccoli/cheddar/potato soup, not so fine if it's something like chicken broth, or a minestrone. You don't have this problem?

                                                                    1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                                      I precook the broccoli and add it as a garnish to soups; adds flavor w/out overpowering the broth. For diet reasons, we will also use brocholi instead of pasta for Italian sauces, cabbage too.

                                                                      1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                                        In my personal lexicon of cookery, it's almost impossible to have too big a variety of veggies in a stew, but even in a soup. I live alone, but always make this stew in my biggest kettle. Then I bag up and freeze the leftovers for future meals where I don't want to cook - or can't.

                                                                        If you've been behaving yourself and saved some beef bones and vegetable trimmings, start making a broth out of them, right NOW. Then make the stew tomorrow. You can even get a head start by steaming the meat, cleaning, preparing and chopping most veggies (except maybe potatoes), so you'll have most of it ready to go the next day - with the hardest part already done.

                                                                        I don't believe in always giving precise amounts in recipes; it often inhibits innovation. A soup or stew only sometimes needs that kind of precision.

                                                                        So I'm gonna make a bit of a speech here - my own world's finest stew! It takes time and effort, but it's worth it. Here goes.

                                                                        World's best beef stew (can make it chicken or pork, too)

                                                                        Get a pound or more of lean beef - or remove the fat yourself; it will have a use later to render for sauteeing any veggies you want sauteed..
                                                                        This steaming process applies also to pork, but not to chicken. It can be cut up and just plunked in the pot, or sauteed first.
                                                                        Cut the meat into manageable chunks, wrap TIGHTLY in foil, and steam it till tender. The foil is vital, because it will save those precious juices! And without it, the meat will dry up.
                                                                        Pour off the juices and reserve for stock.
                                                                        Shred the meat, using fingers or a fork
                                                                        Yeah, you're getting the drift - this is not a fast meal! Conscript help from others in the family, if you can.
                                                                        Heat some oil very hot and fry the meat shreds in small batches till browned. Into the pot they go.

                                                                        Some people would probably love adding a favorite sausage - cut into bitesized pieces, fried brown and lovely, and added to the pot. Unless there are anti-sausage police in your neighborhood, I don't see why you shouldn't, if you want to.


                                                                        Use any - or all - of these, but try to use at least 8. The onion must be one of them, and if you love shrooms, ditto for them. So this dish is also a wonderful way to use up that one last zucchini or bell pepper, etc. It's always delicious, but each time you make it it's slightly different, depending on the veggies you have on hand.

                                                                        Potato (small pasta or some favorite kind of rice works, too)
                                                                        Bell peppers (I prefer red)
                                                                        Chayote (peel and chop, including the edible seed)
                                                                        Spinach (or kale, romano, beet greens - any dark green leaf)
                                                                        Broccoli and/or cauliflower
                                                                        Corn and/or peas, if desired
                                                                        Chinese (baby) peapods
                                                                        Any other chinese-style veggie, like bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, etc.
                                                                        There are others, and you can probably think of a few.

                                                                        If you like, you can pre-sautee any of the veggies - it's up to you.

                                                                        The more veggies you use, the LESS you'll need of each. I find with 8-10 veggies, I'm only using about a cup, more or less, of each one - but a lot more of onion and shrooms, and more, too, of my favorites. Together with, at a minimum, a pound of meat - usually more - my kettle gets pretty darned full.

                                                                        I won't go into how to prepare each one here, since I'll presume you already know how. The size of the pieces is a matter of taste preference. BUT DO use a goodly amount of onion and DO sautee the onions till they carmelize (brown), but save some raw to add to the soup when it is served. You can chop and prepare any of these the way you prefer for soups and stews. Chunky or small pieces - it's your choice, but the small ones deliver more flavor punch to the dish. Use more of your favorites, too.

                                                                        The fried meat shreds, the juices from steaming, the veggies, all get dumped into the pot, then broth is added (preferably homemade) until the solids are covered. Simmer this well covered slowly, for a couple of hours, checking every half hour and adding broth if needed. What you want is enough broth, but the vast bulk of the dish is solids, with broth rising no more than a couple of inches max above the solids. If you have no homemade broth and what you DO use isn't very richly flavored, only THEN use some bullion cubes to make it rich flavored.

                                                                        The broth can be augmented with some tomato puree, maybe a few glugs of the appropriate kind of wine.

                                                                        NOW add seasonings, when the cooking is done, or almost done. I always use a couple tbs of liquid smoke, and regard it as mandatory - fantastic stuff! Add the S&P now, so when you adjust seasonings later, you won't be led astray because it isn't salty enough. My favorite seasonings are the liquid smoke, ample amounts of garlic (always!), oregano, S&P, and maybe some comino. But you can spice it up to suit your own preferences. Just don't do it too early, or the cooking flattens out the flavors. Don't cook more than another half hour after seasonings are added. An exception is brown or wild rice - there must be at least TWICE the amount of broth as the rice (more if you want broth at ALL!), and both rices need 45 minutes of cooking. Add rice or pasta too early and they get mushy, so add them with seasonings or just a few minutes before. Remember that pasta and rice will reduce the amount of free broth, so add more if needed. You can use seasonings that are from regional cuisines, like Mexican, Chinese, etc. Add seasonings in conservative amounts, mixing in, tasting and adjusting the amounts till it's just right.

                                                                        My brother used to love what he called "garbage pizza," because it had just about everything on it that CAN be put on a pizza. This stew is sort of like that. None of the flavors conflict, and they ALL contribute to the overall deliciocity of this stew. It tends to have a wonderful flavor that is uniquely its own.

                                                                        You can thicken it, if you like. The best way is to use about 1 TB of flour or cornstarch (cornstarch is best, and makes it glossy, not cloudy) for every cup of broth you think you've got. Mix the starch with water and stir till it is free of lumps, then pour into the pot and mix in immediately, stirring until the whole thing thickens nicely. You can use buerre marie, too, which is merely flour hand-worked into butter - knobs of it are thrown in until the right amount of thickening occurs. When fully thickened, serve.

                                                                        But you're not done yet! There are the "toppers," too. These are usually things like shredded cabbage, onion, chopped tomato, pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced radish, croutons, (and you can probably think up more), served in separate bowls to accompany the meal. And ALWAYS have wedges of lime or lemon, served with each bowl of the stew, to squeeze right into it for added flavor. These toppers are in common use in Mexico, where I live, and it's your loss if you've never tried it! It's like the toppers often served with chutneys along with a curry meal. Each person picks his own and plunks it into his own bowl of stew. But the lemon or lime wedge is always given to each person.

                                                                        As a bread, hot, very slightly dry-toasted corn and flour tortillas are ubiquitous - and rightly so! - in Mexico, but any good bread will do. A garlic or herbed bread particularly. With all those veggies, a salad would be a bit of overkill, unless it's a fruit salad. If there's room for dessert in anyone after all this, try - uh - jello.

                                                                        I know I'll remember something I forgot to tell you, but it'll come to me AFTER I post this! Murphy, y'know. Try it and enjoy!

                                                                        1. re: fastermx

                                                                          you use broccoli in a stew? doesn't it turn to mush or do you add it near the end? broccoli seems like it would not do well in a stew (sorta smelly, too). convince me!

                                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                                            I only add the Brassica foliage near the end - with the possible exception of cauliflower. If you want to stop broccoli from going soft the only way I know is to have a tomato based stew / soup. It still won't accept a long cook. The broccoli stems will last cut in biggish chunks.

                                                                            Edit: My spell-checker doesn't like the word brassica and suggested brassiere as an alternative. I don't know about soup, but that's another way to get in hot water.

                                                                            1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                              that's interesting about the tomato-based soup's retardation of broccoli's cooking.

                                                                              brassica, brassiere. now that's a mental image!

                                                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                                                There are other methods so stop softening. Quick jump into one of my favourite books, my culinary bible, "On Food and Cooking" by McGee...

                                                                                "[...] in certain vegetables and fruits - including potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, cherries, apples - the usual softening during cooking can be reduced by a low temperature pre-cooking step. If pre-heated to 130-140F, 55-60C for 20-30 minutes these foods will develop a permanent firmness that survives prolonged final cooking."

                                                                                My way to achieve this is to put everything in a warm cast iron pot in the oven, put the oven on minimum (170F) and cook for an hour. It is particularly noticeable with the carrots.

                                                                                Potatoes / root vegetables keep their texture better if gradually heated from cold rather than plunged into boiling water.

                                                                                However, I am having problems finding documentary proof to back up my tomato-sauce-keeps-vegetables-harder statement.

                                                                                I also forgot to mention that the reason I add brassicas at the end is that there are sulphur-based flavours and as you cook they will accumulate.

                                                                                1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                  >>"""However, I am having problems finding documentary proof to back up my tomato-sauce-keeps-vegetables-harder statement."""<<<

                                                                                  i think the acidity from the tomatoes affects the cooking. cooking beans is analogous.

                                                                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                    Tomatoes keep many things from cooking quickly, potatoes, rice, lentils, etc. I add the tomatoes after the starchy ingredients are at least halfway cooked.

                                                                      2. re: scuzzo

                                                                        I TOTALLY agree - I love broccoli stems. I can't believe people pay more for the crowns only - I wonder where the stems from all of those crowns go. I like to slice the stem into coins and use it in stir-fry, or just roast them along with the tops.

                                                                        1. re: aching

                                                                          i can almost assure you that those stems are profitably shredded into broccoli slaw, and also probably processed for prepared broccoli soups.

                                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                                            Good. I'd hate to think of them just being thrown away (or even composted).

                                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                                              Or just plain ol' frozen chopped broccoli. After they take the florets for the better frozen broccoli. I bet frozen is where most broccoli ends up.

                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                The plain ol' chopped frozen is v good in a ham, cheese, and broccoli strata.

                                                                            2. re: aching

                                                                              i peel and slice them. salt them overnight, drain out the liquid that comes out, and add garlic,olive oil, and a splash on vinegar. love those as a snack for days after making

                                                                              1. re: aching

                                                                                I was in a green grocer's (a few years ago now) and they had put up signs asking people to not break the stems off the mushrooms or broccoli before buying!

                                                                                I couldn't believe that people would willingly throw away such useful and delicious things!

                                                                                Everyone in my family fights to get at the broccoli stems. Half the time, there's none left over to cook...I call cooks' treat, but that never works ;)

                                                                              2. re: scuzzo

                                                                                as much as I love eating peeled broccoli stalks, I have a deal with my dog.

                                                                                I give him the broccoli and cauliflower stalks, and he keeps his big hairy butt out of my garden.

                                                                                So far, it's working well for both of us.

                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  I wish I'd thought of that. I'm sure my dog's favourite pasttime was to see how many things he could dig up before I caught him ;)

                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    My dog would SO be Mr. Farty if I gave him cauliflower and broccoli.

                                                                                    1. re: Krislady

                                                                                      and mine is actually *better* about his, um, aroma if I give him plenty of fresh veggies.

                                                                                      He gets whole carrots, and green beans...he's quite the veg head.

                                                                                      (and the vet gives it her blessing, because it fills him up without filling him out. No, no garlic or onions)

                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                        Well, he does love carrots and sweet potatoes (and watermelon and cranberries) but I've never actually dared with the cabbage-y stuff. . . hmmmm.

                                                                                        I'm sure he'd like it - he likes pretty much anything I give him, except maybe bananas.

                                                                                        And we have to watch our Jarly's weight, too - he's got hip problems, and the lighter he is, the easier he walks.

                                                                                        1. re: Krislady

                                                                                          Talk to your vet -- there are some things that are toxic to dogs, like too much garlic, onions, grapes, and chocolate -- and fresh pumpkin is a very powerful laxative -- (long story)

                                                                                          But they like their veggies and most of them are good for as long as the vet gives the thumbs-up, go for it!